For those keeping track, the short film I had the pleasure to be a part of called The Jacket has been making it’s rounds through the festival circuit since late Summer / early Fall of 2017. In that time, the film has had some excellently well received screenings primarily on the east coast. I was even able to attend one of those screenings with my director Sergio M. Vaccaro in upstate NY before the holidays.
As for our west coast debut, we had the true honor of having been accepted into the Dam Short Film Festival in Boulder City, Nevada along with a vast collection of other excellent short film. Though Sergio was unable to attend this fantastic event, I felt compelled to make the trek out west and represent The Jacket for him, as well as our amazing cast and crew.
As far as impulse decisions and purchases go, I have to say this one easily falls into the category of “no regrets”. In fact, I have to admit to returning to the east coast having felt rather spoiled and harboring a bias regarding what I’ll likely be looking for from future festivals.
1. Travel Pt 1 - Having booked my flights well in advance, I was able to acquire a great price. The only snag however was figuring out how to get to the hotel and also the festival itself, from the hotel once I had arrived.
I never would have imagined, but as a result of jokingly responding to a post from the festival via Twitter mentioning my being in the process of working through that dilemma, I was offered a ride to and from the festival by one of it’s coordinators.
2. Travel Pt 2 - This is such a major part to the process of attending film festivals, it deserves an extra slot. As far as for the rest of the weekend heading back and forth from the hotel and the festival itself, There was a shuttle bus provided to caravan the filmmakers with a conveniently consistent schedule.
3. Accommodations - I can’t begin to guess how they were able to swing it, but The Dam Short Film Festival has made arrangements with The Railroad Pass Hotel that provided filmmakers and guests with comped rooms for the entire weekend. I’ve certainly heard of discounted rates for hotel rooms in the past, but I have to admit that this perk was a major factor in my being able to financially justify this trip.
Tack on the fact that if you sign up for a free hotel casino club card (did I mention there was a casino in the lobby?!), you could use said club card at the Hotel’s 24hr Diner for the breakfast special - 2 eggs, 2 strips of bacon, toast, and hash browns for $1.99 - between 12AM to 10AM. Making the weekend all the more affordable.
By no means am I implying that this meal was the best food Boulder City had to offer in the least. The town is littered with Excellent eateries, some of which were even sponsors for the festival.
4. Swag Bag / Filmmaker’s Lounge - Because I was representing The Jacket in leu of my director not being able to attend, I became the recipient of a plethora of festival related treats. I was particularly delighted with my new gym shirt (pictured above), and impressed by the laniard + festival pass with the film blocks listed on the back, inverted even, so as to not make it a chore to turn it over and review the information.
The Filmmaker’s Lounge was simply a conveniently located safe-haven next to the theater where filmmakers could regroup between screenings. It was flowing with coffee, alcoholic beverages, and light snacks. Not to mention the occasional complimentary pizza party.
5. The Films - Though a tedious task, in leading up to the festival weekend, I actually scoured the screening schedule and researched as much as I could about the other films and filmmakers. It was ultimately a worthwhile endeavor as I became even more excited the more I learned about these excellent films that The Jacket would be sharing the screen with.
I looked up websites, social media accounts, liked, followed, etc… I then sent an email to whoever’s emails I could find to express my genuine delight in being able to attend this Festival, to see their films, and hopefully to meet them in person while there.
I didn’t receive all that many responses, which I didn’t mind at all, but of the few I did were very warm with mutual well wishes, and it also provided me a reasonable ice breaker for the filmmakers I did have the pleasure to meet. Which leads me to...
6. The Filmmakers - Or even just representatives of some of the films that screened over the weekend. So many amazing and talented individuals. So many independent and supportive perspectives. Like a dinner party, we took in the various blocks of shorts and discussed our metaphorical meals all the while emphasizing our favorite courses and what might have enhanced the quality of a particular dish.
Networking is obviously a big part of why the people that make the movies attend festivals in the first place, but beyond that, the opportunity to share the art that they spent however much amount of time writing, producing, editing, and so on…that is the truest value. And to share your art you of course need…
7. The Audience - The Dam Short Film Festival delivers when it comes to filling the seats. More screening blocks than not, I would say the theater was easily more than half-full. The Comedy block in particular deserves to be noted for selling out!
Now, this was the 14th year for this festival. They’ve had time to build a loyal following and practice in advertising / promoting the event. This is a major load-off from the filmmakers who oftentimes are not from the area their film is screening in and therefore makes it particularly difficult to rope in strangers off the street to sit down and watch an independent film they’ve never heard of. Yet here, The Dam Short Film Festival provides the eyes and ears with of eager Boulder City natives, as well as individuals from surrounding counties. I for one couldn't be more grateful.
8. Volunteers - Aside from the generally and genuinely welcoming community, there were of course the stand-outs who dedicated their time to accommodate the various guests of the festival. Each one of them providing an integral service, no matter how small. If there were any major technical gaffs in the flow of this festival, I personally didn’t see the cracks and that sense of functionality only comes from teamwork on the part of the volunteers.
9. The Festival Founders - These were our gracious hosts. They mentioned that as fans of film festivals themselves, whilst brainstorming what they’d want their own fest to be like really came from looking back to the past ones they had attended and asking themselves what they liked or didn’t. What worked and what didn’t. And in either case, how could they make it better.
One of the ways I couldn’t help but notice was by whom they surrounded themselves with. Having John LaBonney as their dedicated Festival Director and Tsvetelina Stefanova as their Sponsorship Manager proved to be major factors in how organized, accommodating, and impressive this whole experience proved to be for me.
10. The X Factor - 10 key observations really doesn’t begin to cover all of my takeaways from this experience. Of the few festivals I have attended in years past, certainly some have overshadowed others in different ways. Much like putting different films side-by-side, to compare festivals is an unfair endeavor, The advantages and disadvantages regarding organizing and running one range widely in relation to location and resources. Some are especially young festivals and can’t provide the same level of accommodations, or have the reputation to pull in much of a significant crowd. These are understandable circumstances.
By no means are my observations meant to put down any experiences I have had in the past. In stead, I just feel compelled to share the notable attributes regarding this particular Festival that made a lasting impression on me.
I can’t begin to guess what the early years of Dam Short might have been like. But for a festival to go 14 years and bring in the kinds of films I had the joy of getting to see all weekend, I have to assume that there must be an X Factor involved. And if not, I feel pretty confident that the other 9 points listed above more than justify the festival’s success and my residual glow these two weeks after.
I’m happy to know that past the surface-level networking, I’ve returned to the east coast having connected with some amazing peers, hopefully some future collaborators, and more importantly, I’ve returned with new friends who I am truly happy to now have in my life. Of whom I'm anxious to see succeed in their own artistic endeavors.
For a comprehensive list of the films that screened at the 2018 Dam Short Film Festival, follow the link below. Don’t forget to like, follow, etc… I’m sure the filmmakers will be thankful you did.
LOOK THESE FILMS UP! -----> http://damshortfilm.org/2018-schedule/
Congratulations to the following films for having won their respective Awards!
Music Video - What I Want
Audience Choice - Matchmaker
Drama - Hero
Student - Pickle
Comedy - To Do List
Animation - Wishing Box
Leslie Paige Award for Excellence in Short Filmmaking - Pop
Nevada - Hold The Salt: Conserving Mt. Charleston’s Beauty
Documentary - Mr. Connelly has ALS
Sci-fi / Horror - Sputnik
Final Draft Screenplay - House of the Lonesome Human Beings