By Josh Bell
For the second year in a row, the Dam Short Film Festival was held virtually, and for the second year in a row, the festival organizers made an effective effort to replicate the sense of community that’s one of the hallmarks of the Boulder City-based event. The festival live streams offered glimpses of the familiar DSFF surroundings at the Boulder Dam Hotel and even incorporated Boulder City’s annual Best Dam Wine Walk. The festival’s connection to Boulder City is one of the best things about DSFF, and it’s heartening to see that kept alive even when viewers have to stay home.
One thing that never changes is that DSFF programs a wide-ranging selection of great short films, and this year’s 18th edition featured a strong lineup of shorts, including several standout local productions. There were Nevada-based films in multiple blocks in addition to the Nevada-focused program, which was highlighted by films from longtime collaborators Alberto Triana and Hisonni Mustafa.
Triana’s “Novenario,” which was also a highlight of last year’s Las Vegas Queer Arts Film Festival, is a highly personal story inspired by the death of Triana’s grandmother. Amanda Guardado stars as a woman grappling with her heritage following the death of her grandfather. It’s a sensitive story about identity, providing insightful commentary on first-generation Americans while remaining focused on its protagonist’s specific journey.
Mustafa’s “Blunt” deals with similar themes of identity, via two conversations that are gradually revealed to be related. As its title implies, “Blunt” is a bit more direct and confrontational than “Novenario,” but it’s similarly well-acted and thoughtful.
Outside the Nevada program, a couple of locally shot films demonstrated the cinematic variety of Southern Nevada. John Quigley’s heist drama “60 Seconds” takes place in Laughlin, not a location often depicted onscreen, telling a stylish, twist-filled crime story in 18 minutes. Quigley makes great use of Laughlin’s unique mix of Vegas-style casinos and wide-open natural landscapes, including the Colorado River.
In Sunny Bonner’s quiet, well-observed drama “Maybe Tomorrow,” a woman living in her car along with her young niece drives around the backroads of Henderson, scraping together money and brief moments of comfort while hoping for a better future.
The Nevada film award went to the documentary “Windsor Park: The Sinking Streets,” created by UNLV professor Brett Levner and her documentary filmmaking class, and other highlights among the award-winners were the overall audience award winner “Living All of Life” and the documentary winner “Everything in Hardware.”
The Mexican film “Living All of Life” is a crowd-pleaser that doesn’t pander to its audience, telling the story of an older woman whose neighbor helps her rediscover her passion after her husband leaves her. “Everything in Hardware” is a feel-good story, too, following Pittsburgh musician Jon Bindley as he explores and revives his family’s neglected legacy as pioneering industrialists and retailers.
Elsewhere in the festival, I also enjoyed the stark black-and-white Irish folk-horror movie “Bainne,” directed by actor Jack Reynor; intense, intricate sci-fi drama “The Following Year,” in which a troubled man uses a clone to take revenge on his wife’s killer; mockumentary “The Water Sommelier,” an amusing takedown of culinary pretentiousness; and “On the Rocks,” a laid-back comedy about dating misadventures in a Los Angeles bar.
There were gems in nearly every program, and the great thing about short films is that if one isn’t appealing, there’s another one coming up in a few minutes. The virtual format makes it easier to skip past the duds, but there’s value in experiencing the carefully curated programs in full, to appreciate the meticulous efforts of the programmers to balance genres, styles, and running times. I hope to return to Boulder City to be fully immersed in that programming in person as soon as it’s safe and sensible.