"Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!"
The Wizard of Oz's admonition to Dorothy and her friends has stuck with me since childhood. Like Dorothy, I often find the temptation to ignore it overpowering. We all love a peek behind the curtain at how things really work.
So I was excited in July when Film Streams invited me and four Omaha World-Herald newsroom colleagues to choose the lineup for its annual Local Filmmakers Showcase.
The films, announced this week, will be screened daily at Film Streams' Ruth Sokolof Theater from Oct. 16 to 23. A dozen films, ranging in length from less than 3 minutes to more than 30, and in genres from documentaries to music videos, narrative fiction to animation, made the cut. All the moviemakers either hail from Nebraska, Iowa or South Dakota, or filmed in those states.
Congratulations to directors Nik Fackler, Patrick Geske, Harrison Martin and Sally Nellson Barrett's Nebraska Loves Public Schools team, whose work is making a repeat appearance in the showcase. New directors chosen include Brian Stanley Allen, Dalton Coffey, Jesse Kreitzer, Mike Machian, Timothy David
Orme, Joshua Yates and a group of University of Nebraska at Omaha students.
I had been invited years ago to help the Omaha Film Festival choose its movies, but the time commitment felt too daunting. The festival is open to filmmakers around the globe, and submissions totaled 600 last year. The festival lineup typically includes a couple dozen feature-length movies plus 60 or more short films.
In limiting its program to filmmakers who have roots here or filmed here, Film Streams gets between 40 and 50 submissions each year. The movies chosen for screening all fit in a single two-hour (give or take) slot.
Still, this year's submissions totaled about 12 hours of screen time.
Film Streams assigned equal portions to each curator: columnist Matthew Hansen; food writer Sarah Baker Hansen (Matthew's wife); online entertainment editor Micah Mertes; features writer Casey Logan (a former Film Streams publicist); and me.
Sarah said she got several food-related movies. Matthew got several music videos. I got mostly documentaries. But we each got a mix totaling around 140 minutes.
Each of us was asked to cut the screen time of our pile at least in half. The best from each curator would be seen by all of us together at Film Streams, then we'd choose the showcase lineup.
I settled in front of my home fiat-screen TV and watched all the DVDs assigned to me, taking notes. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and variety of what I saw, quickly choosing three of the seven films (total 40 minutes) for the group to see. I was on the fence about one more but eventually dropped it. Seeing the others' first-round picks affirmed that choice.
One adjudicator forwarded just 20 minutes. Either I got lucky or I'm not as discriminating.
Among the five of us, we chose four hours and 10 minutes of film to watch together one day in early August. Individually, we gave points to each film for artistic merit, entertainment value, technical merit, visual artistry, content and innovation.
We ate takeout lunches in our laps and shouldered straight on to a conference room for discussion.
One long-held theory of mine was affirmed. One was shot to pieces.
I'm always amazed by how people can watch the same movie and come away with such different reactions. That held true here. One person's favorite was another person's bottom of the barrel. Our personalities, our individual life experiences, even our mood going in can affect how we respond to film.
As a movie reviewer, I often think my tastes in movies are different from those of most people. Movies that sell well often are not my favorites. Movies that make me think and feel a whole lot sometimes don't sell well. In my mind, my tastes are too artsy for a general audience but not artsy enough to fully appreciate some of the more cutting-edge titles that play at Film Streams.
So I was surprised when I compared score sheets, one showing my personal point totals and another showing the group totals for each film. My top 11 picks, out of 21 films, echoed all but one of the group's top 11 picks. Four of my top five were in the group's top five. We didn't disagree about everything.
As we made our cases for what to include in the showcase, the conversation was lively, candid yet respectful — and as personal and subjective as I expected.
After an hour of talking and voting, we settled on 12 films adding up to 2 hours and 3 minutes. They include hand-drawn animation ("Afterlight"); a piece of jazz-blues history ("Lomax"); fantastical music videos (Orenda Fink, "Ace of Cups"; The Faint, "Evil Voices"; UUVVWWZ, "Possible Project"; Silk Duck, "The Horse You Rode In On"); documentaries on Peony Park, an inventor, early-childhood education and Rosenblatt Stadium; a short fictional work about a frustrated visual artist ("Elly"), and another about a man whose marriage is ending ("George").
We hope you appreciate them, and the artistic range and skill of local filmmakers. We enjoyed the process of choosing them. You can get more information at filmstreams.org.