The Dam Short Film Festival Proves Boulder City is an Underrated Festival Town

Only 25 miles outside of Las Vegas, the Dam Short Film Festival will be held at the Boulder Theatre this Feb. 13-16.

Boulder City is known for many things: the Hoover Dam, the bighorn sheep population, the distinction of being one of the only places in Nevada that prohibits gambling. It’s also the site of one of the most unique film festivals in the country. 

This February marks the 16th year of the Dam Short Film Festival, which will be held at the Boulder Theatre from Feb. 13-16. During the festival, filmmakers and community members will gather in the 400-seat theater and watch more than 120 short films in categories including drama, comedy, animation, documentary, horror, and local Nevada filmmakers. Audience members use poker chips to vote for their favorite films—all of which are under 40 minutes. 

Tsvetelina Stefanova, Executive Director of Dam Short Film Festival. Photo by Emily Wilson.

“Short films aren’t governed by the Hollywood perspective of a two-hour film,” says executive director Tsvetelina Stefanova. “So it really gives the artist full control of what they put out there.”

The Dam Short Film Festival was created in 2003 by Lee and Anita Lanier, who now sit on the board. When the couple came to Boulder City, they realized they had found the perfect film festival town—it had a walkable downtown, art deco buildings, and it just so happened to be 30 minutes from Las Vegas. 

Teeth, Directed by Nevada's Aaron Schnobrich.

Owned by Desi Arnaz Jr. (son of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball), the Boulder Theatre was built in 1933 and was once the only air-conditioned building in town. Hoover Dam workers would pay a quarter to go inside and take a nap in the dark. Arnaz Jr. only allows a small number of events per year inside the Boulder Theatre, so a ticket to the festival offers a rare glimpse inside this landmark. 

Unlike other festivals, the Dam Short Film Festival only shows films on one screen.

Ghost Don't Cry, Directed by Nevada's Mike Thompson & Jerry Thompson.

“We don’t want people to have to choose where to go,” says Stefanova. “All of our screenings and parties are all-inclusive to everyone, so you’re not going to miss anything. It’s just a great community experience.”

Community is key for the Dam Short Film Festival. The 2018 opening of an interstate bypass diverted an estimated 34,000 vehicles per day from passing through Boulder City, causing community members to fear the loss of revenue. Festivals like the Dam Short Film Festival help by bringing business downtown and showcasing the local restaurants, boutiques, and antique shops. 

This year, Stefanova is especially excited about the music video program. A veteran of the local music scene, Stefanova plays in the independent rock band Same Sex Mary and also founded the Las Vegas promotions and booking company Bad Moon Booking. 

“I think music videos have become a more prevalent art form,” says Stefanova. Prior to the music video program on Friday, Feb. 14, festival-goers can attend a special 8 p.m. retrospective on the 40-year history of experimental art collective The Residents that will include a Q&A with manager Homer Flynn. 

Those looking to attend the Dam Short Film Festival should plan on purchasing tickets ahead of time and arriving early. Tickets are $10 per program or $100 for a four-day pass. 

“It’s just a cool experience to get all of these filmmakers here and get their films in front of an audience,” says Stefanova. “Your emotions and the world you’re put in is a rollercoaster with each of these films one after another. And if you don’t like it, it’s short; it’ll be over soon.”

Tsvetelina Stefanova. Photo by Emily Wilson.

For VIP Passes and tickets to individual programs, go HERE!