LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — In the nearly two decades it’s been around, the Dam Short Film Festival was forced to try something totally new last year.
"We had an amazing virtual festival,” said Tsvetelina Stefanova, the nonprofit's executive director. Because of the pandemic, like so many other organizations, it needed to adapt. And it did. The virtual festival was a huge success.
"We just had such a great response from the filmmakers, the audience," Stefanova said. "We were able to reach a much wider audience this way.”
While the event is on track to make an in-person return this February at the historic Boulder Theater in Boulder City, organizers are taking some of the benefits of the streaming model and offering a Nevada Filmmaker Retrospective for the month of November.
For $10 you can watch 11 short films made by local filmmakers from the comfort of your couch.
“[They are] all Nevada films that have screened in previous festivals that have either won awards at our festival or were crowd favorites,” explained Stefanova.
Film Spotlight: 'Rick Thunder In… Look Back Tomorrow'
Jason Harris is a comedian and filmmaker in Las Vegas with a short featured in the retrospective.
As a comic, he says he's done everything from small open mic nights to introducing President Joe Biden on stage. “I've done stand-up comedy at a midnight show at the Dam Short Film Festival, which was really fun,” said Harris.
His film "Rick Thunder In… Look Back Tomorrow" plays on the classic film noir style.
"This is a film noir set at an apartment complex," Harris said. "Rick Thunder is the best and only detective in Copper Creek. He takes on all cases, no matter how small. And this is one of the smallest.”
"Rick Thunder" is an official selection from the Dam Short Film Festival in 2019.
Harris says the film has also won awards and has been screened around the world. "For a short production, this thing has outkicked its coverage and done really well for us.”
While Jason's comedy background clearly plays out in his film, the festival — and the retrospective — offer shorts across a variety of genres.
Film Spotlight: 'Rainshadow'
Kari Barber is a decorated filmmaker with a documentary streaming in the retrospective called “Rainshadow.”
"It's about a school that took a different approach, that was changing students' lives," she said. "But not everyone saw the school as successful. I guess really, the question in the film for me is what does success in education really mean?”
Barber was drawn to documentary filmmaking because she has a passion for social justice and social issues.
"This is certainly a heavy topic," she said of "Rainshadow." "I mean, these are students who have been bullied, students who have had, you know, mental health issues, struggles and even suicidal thoughts, these sorts of things. A very heavy film.”
Heavy, but impactful. The film earned her the Best Nevada Filmmaker award at the festival for 2020. It's an honor chosen by the audience.
"I was absolutely honored that the film won," she said.
As a filmmaker, she’s covered all kinds of social issues. Her last film, a feature called "Struggle and Hope," dealt with racial issues in the southern U.S. and where she is from in Oklahoma, she says. It aired nationally on "America ReFramed."
Barber has made nearly a dozen films and she has more in the works
"I feel passionate about certain social issues and if I can have a small part in making things better, it that's huge,” she said.
Film Spotlight: 'Sweatheart Dancers'
Another notable film is Ben-Alex Dupris’ “Sweetheart Dancers,” about two Native American Dancers who challenge the status quo
The film landed Dupris the festival’s Best Nevada Filmmaker award in 2019 and received international distribution.
Watch them all
Each film is wildly different than the last, all of them worth checking out. The full list of films available in the retrospective and their descriptions are below.
Celebration of art
While the Dam Short Film Festival, of course, celebrates local filmmakers, it also makes sure to spotlight talented illustrators.
For the last few years, the organization has hosted an art contest to showcase an artist's work for that year's festival poster.
This year’s winner is artist Jacobj Gallegos. You can see more of his work on Instagram at @jacobj_gallegos.
"We're just really, really happy that so many artists want to participate and care to submit and share their art with us,” said Stefanova.