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The Student-Run News Site of Westside High School in Omaha, Nebraska. Keeping you WIRED in to all things Westside.

Westside Wired

The Student-Run News Site of Westside High School in Omaha, Nebraska. Keeping you WIRED in to all things Westside.

Westside Wired

The Student-Run News Site of Westside High School in Omaha, Nebraska. Keeping you WIRED in to all things Westside.

Westside Wired

Omaha Film Festival returns for its 19th year

Marc Longbrake

The Omaha Film Festival (OFF) started in the year 2006 when the OFF Executive Directors Marc Longbrake, Jeremy Decker and Jason Levering went to a small film festival in Kearney, Nebraska.

“Jeremy was like ‘why doesn’t Omaha have a film festival?’ and we thought about it and decided that Omaha needed one too,” Longbrake said.

Fast forward 19 years and the festival is still going strong. This year, OFF will be taking place at Aksarben Cinema on Feb. 27 through March 3. 

“That cinema is locally owned,” Longbrake said. “It’s one of the few locally owned cinemas in Omaha so we’re super excited to be there and support them.”

Being at this cinema puts them in Aksarben Village, so everything is within walking distance. Not only that, but their hotel is across the street from the theater. 

“We like having a small footprint, so this is great for us,” Longbrake said.

Longbrake’s favorite thing about the festival is that people have the ability to go see a movie, meaning the experience is not fully done after the credits.

“A lot of the time, with festivals, the filmmaker is in attendance so, after the screening, people can ask them questions,” Longbrake said.

Booth Manager Kari Spangler has volunteered for 15 years and sticks around because she likes movies in general.

“It’s so much fun,” Spangler said. “You get to see really great films that you probably aren’t going to get to see on the big screen elsewhere.”

This is one thing that makes the film festival especially special to Longbrake.

“We’re excited to put films in front of a local audience that wouldn’t necessarily have an opportunity to see the films that we’re playing,” Longbrake said. “This year, we’re showing 98 films.”

People may not know that while they highlight local, Nebraska-made films, they are an international festival.

“Our closing-night film was at Cannes last year,” Longbrake said. “We have a special screening on Sunday that just world premiered at Sundance a few weeks ago.” 

On top of the screenings themselves, the festival also has the OFF Academy and a Writers Theater. The OFF Academy is where local students go and learn about the filmmaking process directly by working with filmmakers.

“At the OFF Academy, they will have access to all of these filmmakers who are famous or well connected,” OFF Academy Director Liz Zellner said. 

Most of the time, people would not have the means to interact with film creators in the industry. However, at a film festival, they do.

“People have access to them and they can talk to them and shake their hand,” Zellner said. “When you go see Avatar, you can’t talk to James Cameron after the screening but you can go and meet the filmmakers afterwards.” 

The OFF Academy lasts for two days and is open to 6th through 12th grade students. During day one, students can visit local productions companies and see their staff and their equipment used to shoot a one-page script made by a local screenwriter. The students then get a chance to shoot a scene and help film it.

“Day two, we watch the scene we shot before,” Zellner said. “We also have a lunch-and-learn panel with all of the visiting filmmakers. It’s eight students to a filmmaker and they come up with an idea for a film and pitch it to the entire room.”

The OFF has three tenants; educate, entertain and inspire. Students learn about networking as a part of the ‘educate’ tenant and there’s a writer’s theater for aspiring writers under the ‘inspire’ tenant.

“We always want to highlight our screenwriters,” Longbrake said. “We have a script competition and we bring in screenplays from around the world and go through the same processes as we do with our own films.”

They then bring actors in to perform these scripts in front of an audience. The festival is 100% volunteer-run every year and they have many different volunteer opportunities.

“We’re open to all age ranges for volunteers,” Zeller said. “Since our entire staff are volunteers, if you volunteer with the festival, you’ll make the same as the Executive Director.”

Volunteer positions have many roles including ticket taking,  ballot counting and ushering. Volunteers also make sure that the films will play properly.

To learn more about volunteer opportunities, buy tickets or view the schedule, go to OmahaFilmFestival.org or email them at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Daniel Vanourney
Daniel Vanourney, Lance Staff
I am Daniel Vanourney and this is my second year on Lance. I love movies and pop culture. I also love music and Halloween.
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