Interview with Festival Director John LaBonney (DAM SHORT FILM FESTIVAL)

Recognized as one of the Top 100 Best Reviewed Festivals on FilmFreeway, The Dam Short Film Festival is the largest film festival in Nevada. Entering its 15th season, the event attracts filmmakers and fans alike to Boulder City each February to celebrate the art of independent short film. With parties, events, awards, and a lineup of over 120 films in four days, it’s an experience that enlightens, entertains, and inspires year after year.

Festival Director John LaBonney is an award-winning filmmaker and has a B.S. in Broadcasting and Film from Boston University. He was appointed Director of the festival in 2011 and oversees all festival operations. He maintains a strong connection to the arts community and lectures on film topics to college students.

The Dam Short Film Festival is currently accepting submissions for the 2019 season. Visit the festival’s page on FilmFreeway here:

1) What is your Film Festival succeeding at doing for filmmakers?

While we try to take great care of filmmakers at Dam Short through the entire process from submission to screening, I think what we really succeed at is providing them with an audience for their films. We work hard to promote the festival in the press and on social media to attract an audience and we’ve been successful in drawing crowds. There’s nothing worse than getting accepted to a festival and making the trip there to represent your film, only to discover a near-empty theater when the film screens. When you walk into your screening here, there’s a good-sized audience in the theater to watch your film.

2) What would you expect to experience if you attend the festival this year (2019)? 

In addition to a carefully-programmed lineup of over 120 films in all styles and genres, awards, parties, and events, you’ll experience the historic 400-seat Boulder Theatre. Built in 1933, the theater is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was the first air-conditioned building in town. After years of serving as Boulder City’s movie house for many years, it shuttered its doors for some time and was subsequently purchased by actor/musician Desi Arnaz, Jr. and his wife Amy in 1997 who restored the building to its former glory. It’s the permanent home to the Dam Short Film Festival and many people walking into the theater for the first time are amazed by the venue.

3) What are the qualifications for the selected films?

We accept films for submission in any style or genre with any year of production and any premiere status. Our only real qualification is length. The Dam Short Film Festival screens short films, so entries must have a running-time of forty minutes or less. The films we program are entertaining and thought-provoking, offer our audience a wide range of viewpoints and styles, and always represent quality storytelling. Given the choice, I pick engaging storytelling over technical proficiency.

4) Do you think that some films really don’t get a fair shake from film festivals? And if so, why?

Possibly. What’s a fair shake?

Programming a festival schedule is a lot harder than people might think, especially when you’ve got more quality films to choose from than you can run on the screen in an allotted time. There are many reasons a festival can’t always run all the product it would like. Even with a large selection committee watching and rating the films, I struggle to put together the final program. I’m not naïve enough to think the selection process is completely fair in every single case, and sometimes political considerations are involved. And programmers, myself included, make mistakes. But for the most part, I think programmers are doing their best to put together the best schedule of films for their particular festivals.

Some films might not get a “fair shake” but I think filmmakers should keep on making the films they want to make and keep on telling the stories they want to tell regardless.

5) What motivates you and your team to do this festival?

It’s a love of short films. Short films are so cool! You can do things in a short film that simply won’t work in a feature length format. Features almost always have a commercial goal, but short films are usually financed by the filmmaker himself with little or no hope of earning a return on investment. With no studio or financier to appease, he can do whatever he wants with his film. With no restrictions, creativity runs wild. We’re amazed at what filmmakers are doing in short films, and we’re excited to share them on our screen.

And as we’re entering our 15th season, The Dam Short Film Festival has become an institution. It grows each year and is a huge event for Boulder City. It must go on! We simply can’t not do it.
6) How has your FilmFreeway submission process been? 

Are you kidding? FilmFreeway is a quantum leap in the submission process! It’s what film festival submissions should have been like. I look back and wonder how any of us ever managed before. It’s a thousand times easier for filmmakers and film festivals. It’s like we’ve all been saved. Everyone who is familiar with the stone age technology we were forced to use in the past no longer wants to kill themselves.

We’ve experienced a much stronger rate of growth since we’ve started using FilmFreeway.

7) Where do you see the festival by 2023? 

With any luck, we’ll be right here in Boulder City, taking care of filmmakers and providing them with the audience they deserve.

We’ll keep up with the technology as it evolves (in our infancy we screened films on videotape, now we have a Virtual Reality category), we’ll stay current with the short film landscape, and we’ll try new things. But our core values will remain the same.

8) What film have you seen the most times in your life? 

Star Wars.

9) In one sentence, what makes a great film?

A great film is one that has a great story told with engaging storytelling.

10) How is the film scene in your city?

The Dam Short Film Festival is the biggest film event that Boulder City experiences. It’s a bit of a quiet town to have much of a film scene. It’s a heck of a place to go antiquing though! In neighboring Las Vegas, the film scene is constantly growing and there are always new opportunities, especially since we’re within driving range of Los Angeles.



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