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The Independent Critic

Lars Mikkelsen
Dice Tsutsumi, Robert Kondo
18 Mins.

 "The Dam Keeper" an Official Selection at Heartland Film Festival 

The Dam Keeper, an official selection of the 2014 Heartland Film Festival, is one of my favorite shorts from this year's festival.

The weird thing? I'm not exactly sure why.

Narrated by Dutch actor Lars Mikkelsen and co-written and directed by Robert Kondo and Duke Tsutsumi, The Dam Keeper isn't the kind of dazzling animated short that you would find in any American multiplex despite the fact that Kondo and Tsutsumi are both known for their art direction on such films as Toy Story 3, Ratatouille, Monsters University, and Ice Age. While those films are decidedly designed for mass consumption, the tale in The Dam Keeper is quieter and more involving yet no less entertaining.

The film is set in a desolate future where one town's survival is due solely to a large windmill dam that acts as a fan to keep out poisonous clouds. Despite being constantly bullied by classmates and facing an indifferent public, Pig, the dam's operator, works tirelessly to keep the sails spinning. When a new student, Fox, joins his class then everything begins to change.

The Dam Keeper is made up of over 8,000 paintings and is beautifully designed and drawn utilizing lush, broad hand-drawn strokes and an atmosphere that focuses more on substance and meaning than style. At a mere 18 minutes, The Dam Keeper is the kind of short film that starts out making you believe it's one then then veers towards its deeper purpose.

The film had its world premiere at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival and received the Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco International Film Festival, the Kids Audience Award at the New York International Children's Film Festival, and the Young People's Jury Award at TIFF Kids. While it's not in the running for one of Heartland's Grand Prizes, The Dam Keeper is one of those films that will stay with you long after its closing credits have rolled.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic