Techie Marc Longbrake was in college when he lost it at the movies. Intrigued with doing something in cinema, he managed computer-aided drafting designers for his 9-to-5 but crewed on local independent film projects for his moonlighting fix.
Fast forward to today, when he’s a veteran lighting technician on area shoots, including a feature recently accepted into Sundance, Take Me to the River. Longbrake is also a co-founder of the Omaha Film Festival (OFF).
The March 10-15 festival at Marcus Village Pointe Cinema celebrates it 10th season this year. Longbrake and fellow movie enthusiasts Jeremy Decker and Jason Levering distinguish their event from other fests here with an ambitious, multi-day slate of features, documentaries and shorts, a conference of film industry panelists, and meet-and-greet parties.
The event receives 600-plus entries from multiple states and nations. A screenplay reading series complements the script competition. A team of judges spends months viewing films and reading scripts to determine which submissions make the final cut.
“It’s a pretty intense process,” Longbrake says. Getting all the moving parts in sync is a feat. He and his partners divvy up duties. Longbrake oversees the technical side.
“I deal a lot with the projection. We take great pride and care in the way we project the films we show. That’s a huge part of it.”
He also makes sure the fest connects to the local film community via social media.
This labor of love is fueled by shared passion. “It’s not been easy, it’s not been without sacrifice,” says Longbrake, a still-video photographer and lighting grip. “The fact we’ve stayed together all this time and managed to get along and to remain on the same page—I mean we’re all very different people with very different opinions—has made for a good marriage that helps us put a good product in front of our attendees.”
Longbrake and Co. displayed vision and courage launching OFF when they did as it preceded Omaha’s much-embraced art cinema, Film Streams. They saw an indie void and filled it with the help of sponsors.
He says despite the fact “we’re all broke from this, at the end of the day we know it’s a good cultural thing for the city to have,” adding, “We’ve got enough of a fan base that if we were not to do it there’d be some disappointment. I don’t know who would pick up the ball and run with it, so we feel sort of an obligation to keep it going.”
Besides, he says “it’s pretty cool to be a part of Omaha’s cultural renaissance the last 10 years.”
Occasionally, OFF features break big, giving Omaha audiences sneak peaks of awards contenders. Then there’s moments like the one a few years ago when Longbrake introduced filmmakers Logan and Noah Miller to their idol, screenwriting guru Lew Hunter, at an OFF screening of the brothers’ debut feature, Touching Home. The twins had read Hunter’s Screenwriting 434 to learn how to write a script.
“It was a great moment for the brothers and Lew to meet and it was a great moment for me to be able to put them together.”
He enjoys it, too, when Nebraska film artists such as Yolonda Ross, Mauro Fiore (see related story on page 117), Mike Hill, Dana Altman, and Nik Fackler make OFF appearances to share their passion with audiences.
Now they’re pushing for Alexander Payne to be a future guest.