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BRAVO! August 2009

Film Streams: Full Stream Ahead

FORTY-TWO THOUSAND

That’s the number of people who passed through Film Streams’ turnstiles at the Ruth Sokolof Theater in 2008.

Okay, the theater doesn’t really have turnstiles. That sort of conventionalism would be out of character for Omaha’s non-profit film acme. It also wouldn’t quite suit Rachel Jacobson, founder/director. These days, Omaha’s reigning first woman of cinema is still focused on building (and broadening) the theater’s audience.

Her efforts in the first two years of operation have been remarkable. In late July, the theater will celebrate its second anniversary. To date, Film Streams has just less than 1,800 members. Consider that Jacobson budgeted for just 500, and her progress seems even more impressive.

The community support side of our operation has been way above and beyond what I’ve expected,” she said, thrilled. “The philanthropic arts community here is incredible and has been tremendously supportive. We feel lucky to have that.

Faithful members aren’t the only ones turning out to support Film Streams. Other non-profits– many in situations similar to Jacobson’s– have reached out to Film Streams, looking to drum up some synergy. Take Project Harmony and its March 10 collaboration. In conjunction with its March 11 “Speaking of Children” event, the organization whose mission is to protect children and end child abuse co-sponsored a screening of “Antwone Fisher,” a 2002 film directed by Denzel Washington. The evening’s special guest was Fisher himself, the film’s inspiration, producer and co-writer. “That one was a no-brainer,” Jacobson jokes. “It was an exciting event for us. We’ve had filmmakers and actors here in the past, but to have someone whose life is the film is really special.”

The Project Harmony event isn’t the only such cooperation at Film Streams.

Non-profit requests have come in at such a rate that Jacobson and her staff have been forced to formalize the process for determining what meshes well with Film Streams’ mission. For this, Jacobson turned to Film Streams’ Community Development Committee, a diverse wing of the organization she’s quick to lean on for advice. Upcoming community development partnership events at Ruth Sokolof Theater include an August 25 screening of “The Miracle Worker” (1962), presented in collaboration with the Nebraska Foundation for Visually Impaired Children, with a post-show panel discussion on education services for visually impaired students.

Film Streams’ ongoing repertory series has also helped fill seats. In February and March, as part of the ongoing Great Directors Series, Film Streams honored legendary filmmaker John Cassavetes. The Cassavetes films– “Opening Night,” “Minnie and Moskowitz” and “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie,” to name a few– were particularly meaningful for Jacobson, who adores Cassavetes’ work.

Highlighting the Cassavetes series was “An Evening with Seymour Cassel,” featuring an appearance by Cassel after a Friday night screening of “Minnie and Moskowitz,” where he plays a starring role. Not even five inches of freshly fallen snow could keep crowds from seeing Cassel, whose film career has taken off again in recent years through his work as barber “Bert Fisher” in “Rushmore” (1998), hotel bellboy “Dusty” in “The Royal Tennenbaums” (2001) and shark bait sea explorer “Esteban du Plantier” in “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” (2004)– all Wes Anderson films. Cassel answered questions from the crowd about his relationship with Cassavetes and his career highlights working in the film industry.

Repertory programming resumed in May with the Henry Fonda series, showcasing the Omaha actor’s incredible filmography, including stage and screen classic “Twelve Angry Men.” Upcoming repertory series include a Westerns series (July 3 – August 27) and a series featuring the films of Debra Winger.

Speaking of Winger, Feature 2009– Film Streams’ annual fundraising celebration– will feature Alexander Payne in conversation with special guest Winger, Sunday, September 13, 2009 at the Holland Performing Arts Center. Film Streams’ pull-out-all-the-stops night of film revelry and fundraising brought 1,000 people to the Holland Performing Arts Center and featured board member Payne and his guest of honor, Laura Dern, in 2008. The event raised an eye-popping $188,000 for the Ruth Sokolof Theater. Feature 2009 will hope to do much the same

And, of course, there’s Film Streams’ first-run films, its main dietary staple. 2008 gave us “Slumdog Millionaire,” and the Sokolof had an exclusive on this Oscar-winner for a few weeks before its popularity brought it to other Omaha cinemas. But there were others that came with less fanfare too: “The Savages,” “Tell No One” and “Man on Wire.” Jacobson is excited about what’s in store for 2009.

Also new in 2009 is Student Night. Thanks to a grant from the Peter Kiewit Foundation, the first Monday of every month is now free to all full-time students with a valid student ID. Also new are Thursday Matinees– early afternoon showtimes every Thursday. Both promotions will help serve Jacobson’s goal of building a diverse audience. “We’re really focusing on getting as many young people down here as we can, and that’s really for the future of our organization,” she said. “It’s important, through our partnerships, we reach out to audiences that don’t automatically have an interest in our theater. The hope is that film history and the directors we’re interested in will become more important to the community as a whole.”

In the meantime, Jacobson and the Film Streams staff will continue building a core audience– a task which she says will pose the biggest challenge facing the young theater. She’s excited about the progress Film Streams has made and the artistic direction Omaha’s heading in– a city she’s putting her own stamp on.

“Omaha is really at a great point, a turning point you might say, as far as the potential development of the artistic community,” she said. “Living in New York, you really get a lot back from the city, but to be here and have an actual impact, or at least feel that way, is pretty exciting for me.”

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