March 12, 2018 by

After five days packed with 89 short films, 18 features, and seven documentaries, the 2018 Omaha Film Festival concluded on Sunday, March 11.

Audiences at the festival had a chance to watch local films along with work from international directors and Hollywood celebrities. Among the attractions was a special screening of Beirut (starring Rosamund Pike and Jon Hamm), which offered Omahans the opportunity to see the film before its April 11 nationwide release.

Independent filmmakers depend on large festivals—like Cannes in France or Sundance in Utah—to have their films shown to acquisition executives, who report to major film companies and can make offers to smaller filmmakers. Smaller festivals, such as the Omaha Film Festival, hold contests where filmmakers can win awards to add to the prestige of their films.

Keith Farrell, right, directs actor Jordan Wendl in the film Rabbit Punch.

Keith Farrell of Dublin, Ireland (now living in Manchester, England), was among the international filmmakers in Omaha over the weekend. “I travel [to festivals] depending on the films I have,” says Farrell. “Rabbit Punch was a short, so I wanted a festival with a strong shorts program.”

Farrell also enjoys traveling to new places. Having never visited Omaha, he was excited to visit this exotic city in the American Midwest. Wanting to come to the Omaha Film Festival, however, does not automatically mean acceptance. More than 900 films were submitted to this year’s festival. Farrell says he was flattered to join the finalists.

“There’s a lot of rejection in this business,” Farrell says. “So when you get into one you want to attend, it’s really, really good.”

He wasn’t disappointed. Omaha Film Festival is unique in that the entire festival takes place at Village Pointe Cinema (304 N. 173rd St.), giving attendees a chance to see as many films as possible. Many film festivals take place throughout a city, so attendees need to calculate transportation time when deciding on their preferred schedule.

“I love that this is all in one place,” Farrell says, continuing that his favorite part of the festival was simply being able to see many other films.“I have three kids, so generally if I go to the cinema, it’s a kids film.”

Omaha Film Festival proved to be good for Farrell. Rabbit Punch won first place for “Best Short.”

Tony Bonacci (photo by Scott Dobry)

While the Omaha Film Festival attracts international attendees and filmmakers, it also emphasizes the local filmmakers scene. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings feature blocks of short films produced in Nebraska. Prospective attendees must arrive early to snag a seat in the audience. It’s a rowdy affair, with many films’ casts and crew members regrouping, perhaps for the first time since they heard “that’s a wrap!”

Local filmmaker Tony Bonacci’s film, The Headliner, played on Saturday night to a sold-out crowd that included writer Christine Burright McGuigan and lead actor Darrick Silkman, among many local film enthusiasts.

“I like being able to see a lot of short movies, and seeing other people’s reactions to them,” Bonacci says. “I like seeing people laugh at weird things or gasp when I’m not expecting them to.”

By day, Bonacci is a freelance photo assistant and independent video producer.

“I like having this wave of new guys who are coming out and making film here in Omaha,” Bonacci says, adding that his goal for the Omaha Film Festival was “to make the short and put it out there so we can make the full-length feature film.”

Although Bonacci did not win any awards at this festival, through the filming process and audience reaction to the film, he knows more about what he wants with the full-length feature.

“I learned a lot,” Bonacci says. “I know now that I want the feature to have more comedy and be less dramatic.”

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