Dam Short Film Festival, and others, face COVID

Lee Lanyard spent most of the last year planning two film festivals. One in person, the other virtual.

In November, however, Lanier and his team had to make the difficult decision: for the second year in a row, the Dam Short Film Festival would not fill its longtime home, the Boulder Theater, but would only exist online.

“We were hoping to be in the theater,” Lanier says of the festival, which runs Feb. 10-14, “but we just couldn’t make it this year for a number of reasons.”

New variants. Social distancing. Changing the rules – and public opinions – about the need for masks and vaccines. The festival committee not only had to worry about the safety of its guests, but also about the protection of its volunteer workforce.

“It’s very difficult,” says Lanier, “to conceive of something as a public event when the world is a bit unstable.”

No consensus on local holidays

Each of Southern Nevada’s long-running film festivals is charting its own course through the pandemic.

The Nevada Women’s Film Festival, which has scheduled its ninth installment for June, has gone live for the past two years after a slight delay as its 2020 edition was scheduled to begin March 19, during the initial onslaught of COVID- 19.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Las Vegas Black Film Festival barely missed a beat. It continued, in person, into August 2020, while cinemas were still closed and gatherings were limited to 50. The festival converted to a hybrid live-virtual format last April and is due to return to the Suncoast for its ninth release from April 21 to 24.

For Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival director Joshua Abbey, virtual screenings were the only option that made sense.

“My audience is 70% over 70,” he says. “In good conscience, I don’t feel comfortable bringing together a full house of people in this age group, regardless of their status. I just don’t think it’s appropriate yet.

Rather than stacking January with multiple online screenings, as was the case with the in-person event, Abbey’s films were released throughout the schedule. Next is the art documentary “Hyman Bloom: The Beauty of All Things” from February 26-28. (The Review-Journal is owned and sponsored by the family of Dr. Miriam Adelson, as is the Adelson Family Foundation of the Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival.)

Even in a post-pandemic world, Abbey says he’ll probably still only hold one or two live screenings, hopefully with high-profile films and celebrity guests, who can fund the rest of the show. season.

“It’s really distilled into a monthly series,” he says of the festival, which was launched in 2002, “which gives me a lot more opportunity to really choose outstanding films to show, (films) that I feel relevant to the issues of the moment.”

Then there’s the Las Vegas Film Festival, which just hits the pause button.

“We were starting to have the financial wherewithal to bring the event to where it needed to be,” says chairman Milo Kostelecky, “and then all of these things happened at the same time.”

The pandemic not only made gatherings problematic, but the Brenden Theaters, which the festival used, have remained locked inside the Palms since the closure. Perhaps the biggest setback, however, was what Kostelecky calls “the horrific and unfortunate events with the loss of Tony Hsieh,” who he says was the festival’s greatest benefactor.

Hsieh’s death has led organizers to reevaluate everything about the festival. He is now awaiting the opening of his new home, the Beverly Theater downtown. Kostelecky calls the theater “a perfect fit” for what the festival has been trying to achieve, as well as a “future catalyst” that would give the festival “a new identity”.

Until then, he says, moving things online never seemed like a good solution.

“There are a lot of big events around the world that are doing the virtual thing,” he acknowledges. “We wouldn’t stand out in any way.”

Hope for a return to normal

Given its traditional February dates, Dam Short’s organizers have had nearly a year to let other festivals sort out online screenings.

“It went surprisingly well,” Lanier says of the 2021 festival. “People have told us it was the best virtual event they’ve been to.”

For its 18th episode, Dam Short does what it can to replicate the vibe of a festival in person, wherever people are watching. The 147 films are again organized into thematic blocks – animation, comedy, documentary, drama, horror, international, music video, Nevada, sci-fi and underground – while the filmmakers will participate in online discussions. A virtual fair is being set up on Discord.

The screenings will be posted online the morning of February 10. Tickets for each block are $14, with household passes, which include all 23 blocks, priced at $140. Each block, once unlocked, is visible for five days. (For more information, see damshortfilm.org.)

As for the films themselves, Lanier says the quality remained high at this year’s Dam Short, even though there were fewer films to choose from. A stock of films produced before the pandemic made the rounds at the festival last year, he says. Lanier suspects that the ability to get out and shoot at the start of the pandemic, along with filmmakers who may have lost their day jobs, helped reduce the number of films in circulation this time around.

“Also, I think people might hang on in the hope that it will come back to physical festivals,” he says. “Because I think for some people, they don’t necessarily want to have their virtual movie, they want to have it in theaters.”

While the virtual format has its benefits — filmmakers from around the world who wouldn’t necessarily travel to Boulder City can participate, while patrons can watch the movies at their convenience — Lanier wants to have those films in the theater as well.

“Virtual is great,” he concedes, “but we can’t wait to bring it back into theaters. And we hope to do so in 2023.”

Contact Christopher Lawrence at [email protected] or 702-380-4567. To follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

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