Thursday, March 15, 2007 – OFF’07 recap

I had the honor of being asked to represent the Omaha Film Festival and be the guest speaker at this month’s Nebraska Independent Film Projects meeting to give the members a recap of the festival. The meeting was very well attended and they listened to my ramblings for over twenty minutes then asked about 15 minutes worth of questions so it was good to see that they were all interested in a behind-the-scenes look at our festival and how it ran overall.

This was the first meeting chaired by their new president Jeremy Bishop and I could tell that he’s excited in his new role to do what he can to help promote nifp and independent film in the area and with the help of VP Matt and his wife Liz (as well as lots of support from outgoing president Rhett), I think the organization is in very good hands.

If you get a chance, be sure to check out their site, get involved in the forums and join up. It would be great if they could out grow their meeting place over the next few months.

Sew Girl

Have you heard of that reality show on the Sci-Fi channel called Who Wants to be A Super Hero? Check out if you want to know more about it. The reason I bring it up? Well, Carole Zacek, wardrobe/costumer for the feature film “Ulterior Motives” as well as loads of other local theatrical and film productions, has developed a character for their next season, aptly named “Sew Girl.” Since the show is in the audition stage for their next season, she wanted to get an audition reel shot and edited within a couple of days to meet the deadline.

So there we are on Sunday, in front of the court house and the police station in beautiful downtown Omaha, shooting footage of a chrome super hero, fighting crime and nabbing the bad guy. Derek Baker quickly put the crew together and wrangled Christopher Norton to shoot it and Adam Froemming to work the sound and within a few hours, they had all of the footage Carole needed to have a pretty nice reel. It was also cool to see Derek and Sam reprise their roles as police officers. Do you think they’re being type-cast? It will be interesting to see how many other entrants turn in a short film shot in hi-def.

Good luck Carole, remember us when you’re famous.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Omaha Film Festival 2007 - memories

Following are a few of the fond (or maybe not so fond) memories from this year's festival.

The question, heard numerous times throughout the weeks preceding the festival, and several times during the festival: “When are you going to screen the screenplay entries?” Umm, how exactly would we do that? Yes, we do have a screenplay contest as a part of the festival, and yes, all of the finalists are given all access passes to the festival, just like the filmmakers, but how exactly do you screen a screenplay? As soon as we figure out how to do this, we will consider it as a part of the festival. For now, we will continue to screen films, and not just words.

A low point in the festival for me was seeing a festival attendee in the hallway of the theater vomiting profusely during one of our screenings. I watched all of the films and I didn’t think any of them were that bad! In her defense, she was only six years old and she wasn’t feeling good before she came. Her mother apologized and I expressed my relief that it wasn’t our films that made her sick.

I guess since I’m mentioning low points, I can mention how I was initially excited about the fact that we had one wireless remote control that controlled all of the projectors that we used and how I thought it was cool that it came with a black screen feature so that we could darken a particular screen while swapping media, but I guess we didn’t realize that the beam on that remote is pretty strong and can go quite a distance. I will say no more on that subject, but our projectionists will know what I’m talking about, and the people that watched 30 seconds of a blank screen during one of our films will also know. Or they’ll think it was just an artsy choice by the filmmaker. Actually yes, that’s exactly what that was, ignore this paragraph.

A huge highlight for the week has to be the party spots that sponsored the festival. The Icehouse, Julio’s and the Pizza Shoppe all put on fantastic parties for the filmmakers, all access pass holders, and our volunteers. After two nights in a row at Julio’s (that offered free margaritas for ticket stub holders) and two nights in a row hearing that bell, the attendees walked away with a great impression. So much so that during the awards ceremony where we ran our sponsor reel, the Julio’s slide actually received a huge ovation.

My favorite part of our festival (and any festival for that matter) is always the involvement of the filmmakers as they travel in support of their films and interact directly with the audiences. I loved all of the Q&A sessions that we had with our filmmakers this year. A few that stood out included the second screening of “Divided We Fall” where a Sikh family was in attendance and got involved with the filmmakers and audience. Also, the second screening of “Darius Goes West” was especially moving (see previous blog). The most animated Q&As were the locally produced films “Independence” and “Out of Omaha” because of the number of people involved with each film in attendance and the number of people in the audiences.

These are just a few of my memories, there were certainly lots more.

Omaha Film Festival 2007 - The envelope please

The Omaha Film Festival is proud to announce the winners of the festival in each of their respective categories:

Jury Awards:
Best Feature - a Lobster Tale - Director: Adam Massey

Best Documentary - Darius Goes West: The Roll of His Life - Director: Logan Smalley

Best Short Film - Kidney Thieves - Director: Toby Wilkins

Best Animated Short Film - One Rat Short - Director: Alex Weil

Best Nebraska Short - Break Time - Director: Dan Byers

Audience Choice Awards:
Best Feature - Mr. Dungbeetle - Director: Thomas Russell

Best Documentary - Darius Goes West: The Roll of His Life - Director: Logan Smalley

Best Short Film - The Wine Bar - Director: Christian Remde

Best Feature Length Screenplay - Jack & Addie - by Jeremy Stein

Best Short Length Screenplay - Meadowlands - by Moon Molson

Best Nebraska Screenplay - Small Town Route - by Michael Comstock

Omaha Film Festival 2007 - Sunday, day 6

So as the sun sets slowly in the west, we bid a fond farewell yet again to another film festival. What an absolutely remarkable experience this was, with the participation of the city of Omaha, the filmmakers that braved our ridiculous weather, and all of our staff and volunteers that made it all possible.

Sunday was a fantastic day. We had our two biggest crowds of the week back-to-back so we tested the limits of the lobby, everyone's patience and our abilities to manage a throng of humanity and with few exceptions, I think we pulled it off masterfully. The first two screenings of the day were the narrative feature "Independence" and the documentary "Darius Goes West." The combined Friday and Sunday screenings of Independence gave us our largest single film attendance and the Sunday screening of Darius was its biggest crowd. Both sets of filmmakers were at the festival for their screenings and both offered fantastic Q&A sessions after their films.

The DGW Q&A was particularly moving with the participation of an audience member who drove from Kansas City to see the film and talked about his son being recently diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, the disease that affects 15-year-old Darius Weems, the subject of the film. Tragic and moving and powerful. The filmmakers again proved their graciousness and generosity as they gave this gentleman their platform to discuss how the disease is affecting his family's life and gave the audience much to think about. Another family in the audience who is also dealing with MD spoke as well and after the screening I had a chance to speak with them and their story gave me one of the biggest highlights of the festival. Four of the guys from the documentary, Logan Smalley (director), Sam Johnson, Ben Smalley, and Daniel Epting, have been traveling to various film festivals and braved the blizzard and made it to Omaha after numerous flight cancellations and other travel challenges. Since they are traveling on an extremely limited budget, they all shared one hotel room and stopped at a grocery store on their first day and purchased meat and bread which was their food for the week. Between films on Saturday, the family saw them in their rental car eating their make-shift dinner and offered to take them out to eat. After some convincing, they finally agreed and they were treated to steak dinners at Austin's. How can you not love the heartland? These guys deserve every cool thing that happens to them.

So, back to Sunday. After the huge crowd for "Independence" at our 12:30 screening, we were treated to an even bigger crowd for our 3:00pm screening of locally filmed and produced "Out of Omaha." So as the 200 folks from the "Independence" theater were filtering out, the greater than 250 folks that were waiting in the lobby to see "Out of Omaha" managed to filter in to a sold out screening. Couple that with the crowds from DGW and the feature film "Simple Things" and the news crews from the press conference that we had in the lobby and you've got a large crowd to manage. The "Out of Omaha" screening was very carnival-like. The audience included the writer/director Linda Voorhees, six of the cast members, countless crew members, many of the owners of the various locations that were used in the film, and one Nebraska Governor, Mr. Ben Nelson. The film played very well to the huge audience and afterward all of the cast in attendance came up for a rousing Q&A period.

After our two 3:00pm screenings, we had our awards ceremony which was also very well attended and we had a lot of fun with it. I will give out the winners in a subsequent post but I will tell you that our audience choice feature and documentary were screened after the awards ceremony so we were able to enjoy those films again.

After the final screenings of the day, we all headed into lovely downtown Benson to the Pizza Shoppe (some of us fortunate enough to ride in style in a limo-bus) and we partied with local music group Shelterbelt until the place closed down. A fantastic way to end the week spending quality, relaxed time with many of the filmmakers that were still in town as well as many of the all access pass holders and volunteers that helped us so much throughout the week.

So, we've put yet another film festival to rest. There were a few glitches throughout the week, and many more successes. Our crowds, while a bit shaky through the blizzard, were very strong and the support the community showed us gives us great motivation and leverage for next year and years to come. I think we're going to stick around.

I want to throw out a very special thank you also to festival founders and directors Jeremy Decker and Jason Levering for allowing me to be a part of their festival. This has been and will continue to be a truly glorious experience. Thanks again to all, and thanks for continuing to support art in Omaha.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Omaha Film Festival 2007 – Saturday, day 5

Saturday was one of our best days yet. We had great crowds for most of our screenings and we had some tremendous Q&As with several of the filmmakers. Some of the highlights included Ross & Katie getting up in front of the crowd after the documentary "Slam Planet: War of the Words" and doing some live slam poetry. Very cool. Also, Valarie Kaur gave another great talk after her film "Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath" and we were also graced with the attendance of a Sikh family so that made the film even more poignant. Producer Lincoln Stalmaster was in town to support his feature film "A Lobster Tale" and the crowd really enjoyed his film and his Q&A. The feature film "Mr. Dungbeetle" was supported by producer/actor Clay McCaw and actor Bill Nelson and they had a very enjoyable discussion after their film screened to a nice sized crowd. The last two Q&As of the evening were with Heather D'Augustine of the feature film "One Night With You" and several of the Nebraska filmmakers that had short films in the Nebraska short film block.

Great films, great attendance, great night. And it was all capped off at Julio's again. And now I'm ready to sleep.

Our last day is tomorrow so come on out and check out some great films. We're having our second screenings of the films "Independence," "Darius Goes West-The Role of His Life," and "Simple Things" as well as the special screening of feature film "Out of Omaha." After our last two films, we are having our awards ceremony in theater #2 at 5:30, then rescreening the audience choice feature film and documentary so you won't want to miss that. Afterward we're heading down to the Pizza Shoppe to wrap up the festival. Hope to see you all there.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Omaha Film Festival 2007 – Friday, day 4

One for the books.

Day four gave the promise of less snow and more people and delivered in spades. Attendance definitely outshined Thursday even though both days gave us snow.

Highlights of the day included one of our biggest crowds of the week for the feature film “Independence” where people traveled from as far away as Chicago, Kansas City and Ogallala to see the film that was shot in beautiful Cozad, NE. Special thanks to director Terry Gsell, writer, producer, editor Margaret Norwood, producer Greg Owen-Boger, production designer Stacie Knock, and sound director Matthew Norwood, for coming out and supporting their film, helping drive attendance to their first screening, and giving us a fantastic Q&A after the film. They have three television interviews on Saturday to help promote their Sunday screening so naturally they weren’t able to go out afterward and hang out at our after party at Julio’s. Wait, I guess they WERE there, but they did leave early. 2:00am is early, right?

Another significant highlight was the screening of “Mr. Dungbeetle” with executive producer (and actor) Clay McCaw who treated us to a great Q&A after his screening. Based on the crowd reaction to this fantastic and touching film, I anticipate a much bigger crowd for his Saturday screening through word-of-mouth. Great job Clay.

We had a great turnout to our short film block 3 which included the highlighted Nebraska shorts as well. Special thanks to the filmmakers in attendance that included Laurie Epstein (“Fishy”), Kerry Knight (“Trashing the Can”), Dan Byers (“Break Time”), Aaron & Molly Zavitz (“Taken”), and Tim Guthrie (“Last Call”). We had a great Q&A afterward and hopefully they can all help drive attendance to get our crowd up for the next screening on Saturday.

And speaking of Saturday, here we are. Please check the website for the great listing of films that we have and be sure to check out the Q&As of the films that have directors in town.

Did I mention the party at Julio’s? Well, they graciously kept their doors open a couple of hours after they closed for us and dozens of troopers stayed until the bitter end. Yes, there are stories, but I’ll leave those to the imagination. Yes, we will be back there tonight after the festival.

Two days left, come check us out.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Omaha Film Festival 2007 – Thursday, day 3

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. Whoever wrote that song should been punched. Well, actually snow would have been okay, but 14 inches is a bit much. I guess the song doesn’t say “let it blizzard, let it blizzard, let it blizzard” so for now the songwriter is off the hook. For now.

So yes, attendance was a bit marred by the biggest blizzard to hit Omaha in the last decade, but the show(s) must go on. While many of the restaurants, banks, businesses were closed around us, the Omaha Film Festival was open for business. Ironically, the theater that we’re using was actually closed as well during the day, but we trekked along the frozen tundra that was Center Street to the theater owner’s house to pick up the keys. When we got to the entrance of his neighborhood and looked down, down into the unplowed/steep hill that lead to his house, I felt a bit uneasy foraging on and quite possibly getting stuck and stranding the three directors of the festival, so without hesitation, Jeremy jumped out of my Explorer and ran (well, skipped and hopped actually) down the shin deep, icy filled, steep road (insert heart-attack here) to run the last couple of blocks to the house. It was freezing cold outside, but fortunately it was warm in the truck so Jason and my tears of laughter didn’t freeze. After obtaining the key (my precious), we made the trip back and get the theater set up.

So our doors were open, the radio stations were called letting them know our doors were open, and we sat back and waited for people to come. And while attendance was lower than in previous days, people still came! Major thanks to all that braved the elements (and the unplowed parking lot) to come out and enjoy some great cinema with us.

The highlights of the evening included Q&As with two of the film’s directors, Ari Carrillo, animator and director of the short film “A Cock & Bull Story” screening in short film block 1, and Lincoln Stalmaster, producer of feature film “A Lobster Tale.” Since both films ended at the same time, I was unable to be in both so Jeremy moderated the Lobster Tale talk and I sat in on the short film talk. I know that Ari will be in town for his second screening and Lincoln was hoping to be here as well so be sure to check out both of those films. By the way, Ari came here from Florida and Lincoln came from California. Sorry for the weather guys.

Be sure to come out to Friday night’s screenings. We are screening the feature length documentary “Summercamp!” as well as the second (final) screening of our incredible short documentary block. Feature films include “Swedish Auto,” “Tomorrow Is Today,” “Independence,” “Simple Things,” and “Mr. Dungbeetle” along with a special screening of “My Brother” starring Vanessa Williams. The filmmakers and lead actress for “Independence” will be in attendance for a Q&A after the film and weather permitting, the lead actor for “Mr. Dungbeetle” will be in as well so come on out and check out some great films.

Thank you to everyone that braved the weather Thursday night and thanks again to the Westwood and all of our fantastic staff.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Omaha Film Festival 2007 – Wednesday, Day 2

Day two is officially in the books and I’m thrilled with the way things turned out. Thank you so much to the Omaha community for embracing us and coming out and supporting your festival.

All of the screenings were well attended and the feedback has been very positive. Yes, there were kinks, but we expected as much and were able to work through them. Tomorrow is another day, and a busy one at that.

One of the highlights of the evening was having Writer/Producer Valerie Kaur and Communications Director Tracy Wells of the documentary "Divided We Fall" in the audience to share the experience with Omaha and treat us to an excellent question and answer session after the film. The film was very educational and very emotional and certainly had an effect on the audience, and many of the viewpoints, often quite political, came out in the Q&A. They will remain in town for their next showing on Saturday at 4:00 so if you missed the first one, you'll have another chance.

One of the thrills of being a director of a film festival is nights like tonight. We brought five documentaries, three short films, and three independent narrative feature length films to a city that probably would never have an opportunity to see them and the crowd had an opportunity to interact directly with one of the filmmakers. A rare opportunity to be sure, but made possible by your friends at the Omaha Film Festival. (insert shameless back-patting here)

Inhale deeply, hold your breath and count to ten… exhale.

Thursday will be our first four-screen day and I just got done putting the projectionist schedules together (yeah, it’s 4:00am).

We will have three feature length documentaries, “Darius Goes West: The Ride of His Life,” “Slam Planet: War of the Words,” and “Sleep Under the Sea – John Robert Weaver – American Artist.”* The filmmakers from “Darius” and “Sleep” will be in attendance for a Q&A after their film and we’re working on a special treat for those that attend “Slam Planet” so be sure to check them out.

We are also screening four narrative feature length movies, “Ephemeres” (subtitled French film), “A Lobster Tale,” “One Night With You,” and “House of Usher.” I honestly would have a hard time picking which of these films to attend. We’re honored to have the director and several cast members of “One Night With You” in attendance so I’m looking forward to the Q&A for that film.

Lastly, we’re screening two of our major shorts blocks, with a total of 22 short films in programs and coupled with features (no, I won’t be listing all of those, you’ll have to check out the website).

Thanks again to all who have supported us so far and I look forward to seeing more of you throughout the rest of the week. Thanks also to our tireless staff. It’s sounds cliché, but in this case it’s very true, we could not be doing this without all of you.

* Why do documentary filmmakers always make such long titles? My last four films have had fewer words in their titles combined than ANY of these docs! Of course, I do have a single-word-title fetish.

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