Adventures At The Dam Short Film Festival In Boulder City

Readers of this particular blog know I’m a Vegas enthusiast.  What you may not know is that I’m a filmmaker as well.  Actually…. let me qualify that.  I’ve made a film.  I’m no more Filmmaker than I am Travel Blogger, but it’s fair to say I’ve dabbled in both.  For a little back story, I made a short film called “To Do List”.  If you really want to dive into that for a couple of minutes, here’s a link from a blog post I wrote about just that….

That Time I Wrote/Directed/Acted In A Short Film

For those that don’t (or for those that did and have now returned), I would like to tell you the story of how I finally sort of went to Las Vegas on business.  (which is a dream of mine… I hear people all the time telling me they had to go to Vegas for a conference.  Poor souls.  Why can’t I have a job like that?).  Anyways, here it goes…

So I made a short film, and I don’t know what the end game is for a short film, other than showing it to audiences.  There’s certainly no money in it (that I’m aware of).  What better audience than a film festival, of which there are hundreds all over the world.  So my goal was to try to get it into a film festival (ideally several), and potentially go to some of them to see what the audience thought of it and so on.  When looking for potential festivals, I was first hoping for something local so that family and friends could attend.  Failing that, I was hoping for something within a reasonable distance so I could travel there, and see it first hand.  Road trips are ideal because they aren’t as expensive.  From a budget standpoint I probably wasn’t going to be able to fly to any of them, unless I rolled it into a family vacation.

So when I was looking at potential festivals, I quietly wondered if there was any way this film could take me to Las Vegas again.  I hadn’t been since 2015, and I was getting the itch.  There weren’t too many of them out there, but one did catch my eye.  The Dam Short Film Festival.

It was in Boulder City which isn’t too far from Vegas.  It’s best known as the home of the Hoover Dam, and I had been once before, although never gone into town which was an over-sight on my part.  I made sure to submit to that festival in particular as well as whatever else I thought I could afford and made sense.  More than just location, I liked that this festival specialized in short films.  Most festivals show a few shorts, but also have a lot of documentaries and feature-length films, lessening your chances of getting in.

Last year after my submission process had started, my wife and I started chatting about what to do in 2018 for vacation.  She was the one that casually mentioned ‘Vegas again?’, and when she did, the wheels started turning.  I told her there was this festival in February that I was submitting to.  Obviously I didn’t think I’d get in, but if the perfect storm scenario occurred, wouldn’t it be cool if we were in Vegas at that time?  So we agreed to do it, but because the festival ran from Thursday to Sunday, and we were there from Saturday to Saturday, I was going to have to choose which half of the festival I would want to see.  I chose for the 2nd half and we made our travel arrangements.

Fast forward a few months, and after a lot of rejections my film had finally been selected to a festival in Tampa Bay.  I didn’t end up going because the timing was awkward, but after reading so many rejection emails it was nice to have that breakthrough.  I was still really hoping for something I would be able to attend, but it was really nice not to get ‘shut out’.  I finally got an email from the Dam Short Film Festival, and as I saw the subject line of the email, I knew I was about to find out.  I really really wanted this one, but I assumed I wouldn’t get it.  Before I clicked on that email I took a moment to dream one last time as you would before checking the numbers on your lottery ticket.  I opened the email and the first word was ‘Congratulations!!’. Woooohooooo!!!!!  Man, I was so excited.  I felt like a little kid.  So I went to their website to check out their schedule because I knew I was only going to be there for half of the festival.  I was flying in on the 10th, and when I saw To Do List was going to be screening on the 9th, I had to go out and show my wife the puppy dog eyes.  I mean I can’t have my film showing in Nevada the day before I arrive.  That’s just too close.  It would be different if I hadn’t already planned on going there.  She agreed, so we made arrangements for me to fly out Thursday night, and I convinced my friend Jay who was the Cinematographer of the film to fly out for the weekend too.

So on Thursday February 8th, off we flew to Las Vegas.  It was almost midnight when the plane finally landed, which was 3 am to us.  We had to rent a car and drive out to Henderson.  I drove through the strip just to get re-acquainted.  See you in a couple of days, Vegas!!!  The festival put us up in a Hotel called The Railroad Pass, which is the oldest Casino Hotel in Nevada.  It was kind of on its own…. I hate to use the words ‘in the middle of nowhere’, but in the middle of the night, it was just this bright shiny light off in the distance.  If I had to describe the decor, I would use the word ‘Smoky Nostalgia’.  There was a no-nonsense ‘old school’ steakhouse in there that I would have loved to have tried, but the 24 hour restaurant that served up some corned beef hash at what seemed like 4:30 am to me was the perfect welcome.  Also, my understanding is that not a lot of festivals would put you up for 2 nights just for a short film.  That’s not lost on us.

Friday was film day.  Our program ‘The Great White North’ was the first one, and was going to kick off at noon, so Jay and I got up just early enough so we could go into Boulder City and have a nice breakfast in town before going to see our film.

I have a Trip Advisor app on my phone.  I don’t mess around with food when I’m in another town, and the Coffee Cup Cafe was the spot according to my research.  Jay would want the world to know that they have the best Huevos Rancheros that he’s ever had.  Perfect start to the perfect day.

The part of town that the theater is in, is cute.  I wish we had more time to just walk around and look in the shops and stuff.  I don’t like to use the word quaint….. it’s charming!!!!  Boulder City was built for the workers who built the Hoover Dam.  The Boulder Theater was built in the 1930’s and for a while was the only air-conditioned building in town.  Desi Arnaz Jr. (The baby from I Love Lucy) bought it and had it restored a few years back, and that’s where I would see ‘To Do List’ in the theater for the first time.

We headed over to the Boulder Dam Hotel which is right beside the theater and served as the headquarters for the festival.  We signed in, picked up our Swag Bag, and off to the show we went.

The fun thing about seeing your own film with total strangers is that you get an unfiltered response that you wouldn’t get from friends or family.  ‘To Do List’ is a comedy, so for me it’s important to know if people actually find it funny.  The screening at the Boulder Theater was more than I could have hoped for.  Every moment in the film that I’d hoped to get a response, the crowd was on it.  Even the most subtle gags got the necessary snicker or two that I had been hoping for.  It went really well.  We met a couple of Filmmakers during the Q&A session, and went for some afternoon beers after.  Sat on the patio at The Boulder Dam Brewing Company Pub, and I enjoyed some of their Wheat Beer while occasionally thinking about all the Canadian suckers that were at work on a cold Friday afternoon, while I was chilling like a famous movie director (all of that is true except for the famous part).

After beers, some of these guys went to see the Hoover Dam.  Jay and I went out for lunch, and drove around a bit to take some pictures.  I think he must have a lot of the cool ones on his camera, but Boulder City is really picturesque.  Especially when you drive over to Lake Mead and see the mountains.  I could have spent all day doing that, but we wanted to go back to the hotel and take a nap before the filmmaker meet and greet in the early evening.  Here’s a picture of Jay taking a picture of Jay.

We went back to Boulder.  Attended the meet and greet, and later went to see the program for music videos to support a couple of the guys we made friends with earlier in the day who were from Paris, France.  They ended up winning the prize for best music video.  We all went out for drinks after that.  The festival provided shuttles between the hotel and Boulder City, so everyone was able to have a good time without worrying about driving.  I can’t say enough about the Dam Short Film Festival.  They really thought of everything, and it was such a good experience.

The next morning we checked out and headed to Las Vegas, where my wife and son would be flying in for what was supposed to be the beginning of my vacation.  There was an awards ceremony back on Boulder City on Sunday night.  Jay and I had to do some soul-searching as to whether we should go back for that or not.  Jay was flying out early Monday morning, so he had to choose between a last night on the Las Vegas strip, or going back to Boulder City for an awards ceremony when there was only a slim chance we would win an award.  Don’t get me wrong.  I felt like our film performed well in the slot that we were in, but there were only 2 other comedies in that slot.  The 4 day festival had approximately 26 more of them.  I just felt like there was no way, but……

We won.  Bittersweet.  If I knew, we totally would have gone back for it.  Apparently they screened all the winners again, so I missed out on the opportunity to see the film screened one more time in front of a mostly new audience.  Still though…. while I really still regret that, and it still bugs me even as I’m typing this…… I have to say, from not really thinking we would ever get into that festival or any others, to getting in, being able to actually go, and then winning an award????  I can’t complain about my luck too much.  I mean until I got to Vegas and let those casinos clean me out… that was bad luck, but all the important stuff was amazing!