Saturday, March 10, 2007

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.


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