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Dam Short Film Festival founder on life beyond the Boulder City event

Updated February 7, 2019 - 1:41 pm

Lee Lanier is celebrating his birthday for the first time since 2005.

Oh, he’s had them over the years. He isn’t some sort of magical woodland sprite. It’s just that the artist and animator’s big day, Feb. 7, always falls in the run-up to, or usually during, the Dam Short Film Festival he founded with his wife, Anita.

This year’s event, which runs Thursday to Sunday at Boulder Theatre, 1225 Arizona St. in Boulder City, will be the first without Lanier, who resigned from the festival board last fall.

“I think it had always been my long-term plan to have it be able to run on its own without me, to be able to survive any individual person,” he says of the decision. “I’ve been kind of cutting back over the years. I would do a little bit less each year. Hard to say, but it just felt like it was a good time to move on.”

Lanier downplays his recent involvement with the festival. “This year, my responsibilities were pretty small,” he says. “It was just down to a small handful of things that are fairly easily passed to someone else.”

Still, his departure shocked John LaBonney, who’s been the festival’s director since 2011. “I was surprised that he resigned from the board of directors. Obviously, it’s a big loss for the organization. Our focus now is to get through this season the best we can.”

Staff members and volunteers start working on the following year’s event each March, so attendees shouldn’t notice many changes with the 15th annual Dam Short Film Festival.

Nearly 1,000 submissions were winnowed to the 133 short films that will screen in blocks of 60 to 90 minutes over the four days. (For a complete schedule and ticket information, see damshortfilm.org.)

LaBonney points to two programs highlighting Nevada filmmakers, set for 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. “I think there’s some really good films in there,” he says, singling out “#NoMore” by Reno’s Emily Skyle-Golden.

More local talent will be on display during the College of Southern Nevada showcase at 11 a.m. Saturday.

“The Underground program is always one of my favorites and kind of contains the stuff we can’t run during the daytime,” LaBonney adds. It’s set for 9:30 p.m. Saturday.

Individual films of note include “Five Star Fouad,” part of the crime block at 3:45 p.m. Friday, which stars Dominic West (“The Affair,” “The Wire”). It’s the result of a filmmaking competition sponsored by Jameson Irish Whiskey. “Laboratory Conditions,” meanwhile, is grouped with other science-fiction entries at 5:30 p.m. Friday. Written by Terry Rossio (“Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”), the short film stars Marisa Tomei and Minnie Driver.

Lanier, however, won’t see any of them.

“It’s kind of emotional for me. It’s a bit bittersweet and also, if I’m there, I’m going to end up working on it,” he explains. “So I think it’s actually healthier for the festival for me to not be there one year.”

He expects to attend the 2020 edition, either as a patron or a volunteer. Until then, he’s focusing on the freelance animation and visual effects work that’s been increasing over the past few years. And he’s pouring himself into his art — “painting like a madman almost every day,” as Lanier puts it — after having gotten serious about it four years ago.

First up, though, is that birthday, which he’ll spend taking in a show by Puddles Pity Party.

The 7-foot singing clown, who’s wrapping up a mini-residency at Cleopatra’s Barge at Caesars Palace, is among Lanier’s favorites.

“He’s one of the few kind of current singers I’m really excited to see.”

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

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