For its 14th year, Omaha Film Festival found a new home in the heart of town.
The fest, which runs Tuesday through March 10, is coming to Aksarben Cinema after operating at Marcus Theatres’ Village Pointe theater for several years.
“We wanted to get into the middle of Omaha,” Jeremy Decker, fest director said. “Hopefully this will be a step that will grow the festival and attract more people to come again or for the first time.”
A special one-day-only Cajun menu will be available all day long.
Over six days, the fest will show 107 films, ranging from locally produced documentaries to movie star-fronted thrillers.
This year is notable, festival organizers said, for the number of films with local ties. There are five features in the Nebraska Spotlight category, plus an Omaha-shot film in the documentary competition, along with many locally produced short films.
“When we can get a feature or documentary on the big screen that was produced locally, that’s always exciting for us,” said Marc Longbrake, program director. “Certainly, filmmaking is becoming more and more accessible. And it seems like the arts are more openly embraced by the general public, which has made way for a lot more artists.”
It’s a feedback loop: More filmmakers in Nebraska yields more filmmaking yields more filmmakers and so on. For more than a decade, Omaha Film Fest has been one of the key ways for talented local filmmakers to discover each other, to collaborate and to make more movies.
Through this process, Longbrake said, the number of local submissions to the fest has grown, as has the quality. The development of the fest is inextricably tied to the development of the Nebraska film community. That will continue to be the case wherever the Omaha Film Fest lives.
The following highlights a handful of those films with local ties, along with a few other features and events coming to the fest. To see a full schedule, go to omahafilmfestival.org.
Opening-night film: “Hotel Mumbai”
When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday
What: Dev Patel and Armie Hammer star in this acclaimed thriller based on the 2008 terrorist attack of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai. The film will open wide on March 29.
“For the opening-night film, we try to get a movie that’s going to come out in the next few weeks or months, a movie our audience maybe hasn’t heard of,” Decker said. “We want one that can grab some attention and get the festival off to a good start.”
Nebraska Spotlight: “50 Summers — A Minor League Baseball Documentary”
When: 6 p.m. Wednesday
What: This documentary follows the evolution of minor league baseball over the past half-century through the ups and downs of the Omaha Storm Chasers as they kick off their 50th season as the Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. The film features interviews with George Brett, Warren Buffett, Alex Gordon and more.
“It’s not just the Omaha story,” said Dan Napoli, the doc’s writer/director. “I think the film really gives you a picture of how minor league baseball has changed over the last 50 years, through the lens and the experience of the Omaha franchise.”
In the making of “50 Summers,” Napoli and his team found a treasure trove of archival footage, which they’ve peppered throughout the film, including stills, two reels of 16mm footage from 1969-70, and blueprints for Rosenblatt Stadium.
“I think people will learn a lot about the trials and tribulations of the Royals, Golden Spikes and Storm Chasers that they maybe didn’t know before, and certainly about the minor leagues in general,” Napoli said. “Omaha holds an important place in the minor league baseball landscape, and the film celebrates that.”
Documentary: “Out of Omaha”
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday and 11 a.m. March 9
What: This documentary is a portrait of twin brothers Darcell and Darrell Trotter, two young black men living in north Omaha. Director Clay Tweel (who also made the superb doc “Gleason”) started following the Trotters when they were 17 and filmed them over the next eight years. Through this intimate story, the film examines a larger, collective struggle to overcome disadvantages rooted in historic injustice.
“Out of Omaha” was executive produced by rapper J. Cole. This will be the film’s Omaha premiere.
The project originated with Omaha native Ryan Johnston, who served as a producer, writer and shooter for the film.
“We’ve been working on this project since 2010, so as a filmmaker, it’s been immensely exciting, after all this time, to share it with festival audiences,” Johnston said in an email. “Bringing it home to Omaha — and to north Omaha, particularly — is doubly exciting. Since the film is now finalizing its wider distribution plans, the Omaha Film Festival is a rare opportunity for the community to see it before it’s fully out in the world.”
“Out of Omaha” is being presented in collaboration with the Kingfisher Institute for the Liberal Arts and Professions at Creighton University, which will be facilitating community discussion around the film, including moderating the post-screening Q&As with the filmmakers and cast.
Event: An Evening with Bill Plympton
When: 8:15 p.m. March 8
What: The iconic indie animator will be on hand for a screening of nine of his short films — including the Oscar-nominated “Your Face” and “Guard Dog.” The shorts will be followed by a Q&A.
“Bill Plympton is a must,” Decker said. “If you like animation, he’s a legend.”
Special screening: “The Biggest Little Farm”
When: 1:30 p.m. March 9
What: Critically praised documentary about a couple trying to develop a sustainable farm on 200 acres outside Los Angeles. Their greater goal is to live in perfect harmony with nature. This ends up being significantly more difficult than they’d expected.
Gorgeous cinematography, a winning underdog story, cute animals. What’s not to love?
Nebraska Spotlight: “UmoNhoN Iye The Omaha Speaking”
When: 2:15 p.m. March 10
What: This documentary tells the stories of the few remaining fluent-speaking elders of the Omaha Tribe and their efforts to keep their language alive.
“UmoNhoN Iye” was in the official selection at the American Indian Film Festival and won best documentary at the Red Nation International Film Festival.
Director/producer Brigitte Timmerman will attend the screening.