Photo showcase: Alexander Payne debuts "The Descendants"
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If he'd scripted it himself, Alexander Payne could hardly have written a better scenario for an introduction of his new movie, “The Descendants,” to his hometown.
The hottest ticket in town Sunday evening was at Film Streams, where all 206 seats of the nonprofit theater's main auditorium were packed for both preview screenings of the film.
Payne, there to introduce his movie, is a member of Film Streams' board, and the crowd was packed with friends, relatives and some serious movie buffs.
Payne told the crowd that, of the half-dozen film-festival screenings he has attended for “The Descendants” so far, “the screening I've been most looking forward to is this one. These are my friends, and I make movies for myself and my friends.”
Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle and their wives also were there to see the movie, which is being widely touted as an Oscar contender. So was Payne's mother, Peggy, and Omaha arts patron Dick Holland.
Guests draped in leis to match the Hawaiian theme of the movie sipped wine and munched popcorn before the 5 p.m. screening. A few wore Hawaiian shirts, but most opted for casual chic attire.
Afterward, they gave the movie two sustained rounds of applause before Payne took questions, looking relaxed in a black blazer, gray slacks and a black tie with a colorful Hawaiian-type floral design.
Thanked by a woman for the many close-ups of George Clooney's face, Payne said he knew his star had charisma. But, as does the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings that the movie is based on, the close-ups reflect that the story is told from Clooney's character's point of view.
“The cinematographer and I were interested in watching his path, his growth, his awakening — and you have to get close to see that.”
After 25 minutes of questions, everybody headed over to a Film Streams fundraising party at the nearby Slowdown bar, which was already crowded with the 8:30 p.m. screening's audience members, awaiting their turn.
Compliments for the movie, which stars Clooney as head of a Hawaiian-gentry family in crisis, flowed as generously as the drinks and hors d'oeuvres.
“I feel like the casting was exquisite,” said Omaha filmmaker Tessa Wedberg, who is filming a documentary in Nebraska. “When you see one of his films, you feel like you're having an authentic experience. His films bring up unexpected feelings, yet it was also an absolute piece of artwork the way it was shot. Every decision is a thoughtful one.”
Holland said the movie was sad.
“But the sadness is overcome by the events in the movie,” he said. “It's one of those movies you'll remember the next day and think about.”
Sen. Nelson said he was admittedly biased but thought “The Descendants” should get plenty of recognition on Oscar nominations day, which is Jan. 24.
Payne, sporting a short haircut, told the crowd that the movie, which opened on just 29 screens in eight American cities over the weekend, nonetheless finished No. 10 at the box office.
“And now Film Streams gets it exclusively for the next two weeks, on both screens,” he said, smiling broadly. The film opens to the public there Wednesday.
“The Descendants” marks Payne's first feature-length movie since 2004's “Sideways” received Oscar nominations for the best picture, director and two acting awards. Payne and writing partner Jim Taylor won the screenwriting Academy Award for “Sideways.”
The Slowdown event Sunday raised about $30,000 for Film Streams' Ruth Sokolof Theater.
Look for more on Payne's responses to audience questions in Thursday's Go magazine.
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