Tag Archives: Omaha Film Festival

2018 Omaha Film Festival

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.”

Visit omahafilmfestival.org for more information.

From Springfield to Syria, We Have It Covered

March 8, 2018 by

Pick of the Week—Sunday, March 11: Did you think you missed out on all the film festival fun? Don’t worry, you’re not too late. Sunday offers your last chance to catch a taste of the 13th Annual Omaha Film Festival at their Writer’s Theatre. These staged readings start at noon and last until 3 p.m., covering a range of works featured throughout the run. Who knows? You might even see someone you know up there making their acting debut. So get thee to Marcus Village Pointe Cinema this weekend. To get a complete list of what (and who) you’ll see, click here. Check out their Sizzle Reel here.

Thursday, March 8: Syria seems always to be in the news lately. But what do we really know about the Syrian people? If you’re curious and would like to learn more, head to UNO’s community engagement center to hear Wendy Pearlman, Understanding Syria Through Refugee Stories, a lecture and discussion regarding the lives and personal experiences of Syrian refugees. Pearlman is an associate professor of political science at Northwestern University and author of several books. Get more details about this event here.

Friday, March 9: OutrSpaces has a new home. And no, it’s not on the moon. Instead it’s in Omaha’s latest revitalized area, Little Bohemia. Their Launch Party on 13th Street will feature CJ Mills and Chalis Bristol. This facility brings together members of the local creative community, providing resources and a venue for those who need it, whether the moon is up or not. The doors open at 6:30 p.m. with performances starting at 7:30 p.m. Get there early to learn about the space and the artists. A suggested donation of $10 will go to supper the artists, with further donations going to support OutrSpaces in their second year of bringing people together. Find out more here.

(Photo by Ariel Fred)

Friday, March 9: With rumors of the possible closing of The Apollon Art Space, don’t miss any opportunity to see some of their creative verve at work. Nasty Women Omaha Presents: What the F!?K is Next? is one such unique show. This pop-up group exhibition focuses on demonstrating solidarity within the arts community. No matter what your sexual orientation, race, religion, or background, you are welcome here. (Children are welcome, but keep in mind some content will be graphic.) The art show starts at 7 p.m. with performances starting at 8 p.m. Best of all, 100 percent of the proceeds go to Youth Emergency Services (YES). Learn more about what to expect here.

Saturday, March 10: We’ll give you any excuse to get out of the house and get some exercise, but this weekend’s St. Patty’s Run for the Gold 5k/10k from Freedom Running Company will get you out even further. And it will be worth it, as this race begins and ends at Soaring Wings Winery, where you can enjoy a free beer or glass of wine once you finish. Plus, all finishers will receive a medal and a long sleeve shirt to help you keep warm once you cool down. To get more info and to register for the run, go here.

A Portrait of the Filmmaker as a Young Man

March 14, 2017 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Knights in shining armor go searching for a legendary spoon. That was the concept of Sam Senser’s entry to the Canadian-based 50-Hour Film Competition. The contest’s theme was “twisted fairytale,” and all entries had to use a wooden spoon prop and include the phrase “you fool!”

His short film, “The Quest for Excalispoon,” won for best costume. A re-edited version is the 20-year-old Senser’s third short film to be accepted and screened at the Omaha Film Festival. The 2017 festival takes place March 7-12.

In 2016, Senser received honorable mention in the festival’s “Best Nebraska Short Film” category—a juried prize—for his comedic heist film “Van Man and Truck Boy 2” (also known as “The Adventures of Van Man and Truck Boy”). Senser’s younger brother Wrenn, the sidekick in “The Quest for Excalispoon,” also plays Truck Boy.

The up-and-coming filmmaker is accumulating an impressive collection of awards. In 2015, Senser won a national anti-texting-and-driving competition—Project Yellow Light—with his short video, “It’s Not Safe for Anyone.”

His advertisement, set in the dark of night, featured a distracted youth crossing a remote country road while looking down and texting on his phone. An oncoming car screeches to a halt. The kid looks up, caught in the headlights. The camera cuts to the vehicle. A deer sits behind the steering wheel, driving the car. Then the kid bolts, running into the darkness.

Surely, the deer-caught-in-the-headlights scenario is a familiar nighttime danger for drivers in Senser’s neighborhood, on the rural fringe of the Omaha metro. The simple danger captures his aesthetic.

“It’s a simpler life in a small town, and I like simple films,” says Senser, who is taking a class at Metropolitan Community College and keeps busy year-round with commissioned video work.

He hasn’t gone to film school (and probably doesn’t need to). He actually paid for his first camera with money from a freelance project for his grandfather’s insurance company. Then, during his senior year of high school, instead of seeking parental help with college tuition, Senser emptied his college fund to upgrade his camera to a $5,500 Canon C-100.

“It was a little bit of a risk, but that’s what he was passionate about,” says his father, John Senser. “He immediately went and bought the camera, and it paid off.”

The first thing he shot was the PSA with the driving deer. An early edit won a contest hosted by WOWT Channel 6 News for Omaha-area schools; the finished version earned $5,000 in prize money from Project Yellow Light.

When he won, Senser and his parents received free airfare to New York City. He stayed for free at the Waldorf Astoria. They had to scramble to find tuxedos and formal attire for the black-tie Ad Council Public Service Award Dinner (which normally costs $3,000 per seat to attend).

Then in 2016, Senser entered the contest again. He also helped his brother enter a video. Coincidentally, the Senser brothers were arriving in Boston for a family vacation with their uncle the night before Project Yellow Light announced the 2016 winners at Times Square in New York City.

After flying from Omaha to Boston, their uncle drove them four hours to the outskirts of the Big Apple. They learned the good news in-person when their videos played on the Times Square Jumbotron on the morning of Friday, July 8.

Senser won the college division for the second year in a row with his next entry, “The Cost of Distracted Driving.” Wrenn also won in the high school division. So, they swept the contest and each took home another $5,000.

The expensive camera had proven itself a wise investment for the family.

Senser says he has been making movies constantly since he was a little kid—maybe third grade, maybe fifth grade. He can’t remember exactly when he started in earnest. “They used to be stupid little short films that we’d do for fun on our family’s camcorders,” he recalls. “We wouldn’t do any editing. I’d hit record, stop it, put it up on the TV, and we’d watch it.”

The young filmmaker lives with his parents at the YMCA’s Camp Kitaki (his dad is a property manager on the grounds, and they are the only folks living year-round at the camp), which is located between Platte River State Park and South Bend.

He still documents his surroundings. In fact, he has made several promotional videos for Camp Kitaki (where he works in the summer, making slideshows for campers).

To make a big deal of Senser’s relative youth would seem patronizing. When it comes to filmmaking, Senser isn’t so much “on his way” as “already there” in terms of skill. His films would prove notable for an auteur of any vintage.

Audiences feel likewise. “His crowd reaction has been fantastic over the last several years,” says Marc Longbrake, program director of the Omaha Film Festival.

The Omaha Film Festival exhibits new independent films and lauded cinematic masterpieces alike. The event organizers also offer educational programming related to film (including a two-day academy geared toward high school students and open to the public); though Senser was never a participant.

Senser’s age did not factor into the festival’s decision to exhibit his work, Longbrake says.

“Based on its own merits early on, Sam’s films were doing well competition-wise compared to the other Nebraska filmmakers,” Longbrake says. “The fact that he was young and in college at the time that he submitted his first film doesn’t play into it. The fact that he was making quality films was the thing that we dug.”

Perfectly executed farce drew Omaha Film Festival jury members to his winning submission last year. “His movies are kind of ridiculous, but in a hilarious way,” Longbrake explains. “And you can screw that up. If you go to a comedy that’s sort of a farce, if it’s done poorly, it’s a struggle. For some reason, he hit the right beats and the right notes with the first couple films that we saw of his.”

“Van Man and Truckboy 2,” focuses on a small-town crime-fighting duo working to apprehend a villain who robbed the local bank with a drone. The film features gorgeous aerial and long shots of southeastern Nebraska countryside. To capture such breathtaking views, Senser worked with Wrenn (who recently completed Navy bootcamp), to operate a camera mounted on a drone.

Along with Wrenn as Truck Boy, Senser’s friend Jake Bruce was Van Man, and Senser’s father was the villain. All of Senser’s films so far have been collaborations with friends and family.

His editing is crisp, coherent, and expertly timed. The acting is understated and natural, sure to keep audiences laughing with wonderfully absurd exchanges like:

“The bank’s been robbed … by a drone … there were explosives, probably two pounds of C-185 trinitrotoluene wrapped in a flaked hydro-combustion chamber with a powder organic nitrate packed inside.”

“The red kind?”


“Oh no. That’s the worst kind.”

Devoid of condescending parody, both of Senser’s “Van Man and Truck Boy” films offer up a recognizable, slyly humorous small-town Midwestern sensibility, where someone could earn a lasting nickname for the flimsiest of reasons, like having a truck. They’re worth a watch (and are available on his personal website).

Where is Senser headed? He says he plans to make a larger-scale short film this spring and summer to submit to festivals around the country. But he’d really like to direct a feature-length film—hopefully around here.

“I don’t know if California would be my thing,” Senser says. “But if they called—if I needed to—I would do it. Although, I’d rather make movies with this kind of setting. I just like the whole small-town feel, forests, open space, ranches, farms. It’s just simpler. Plus I know it. I grew up here. So I kind of know how things work.”

Visit senserfilms.com for more information.

Sam Senser at Camp Kitaki

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Keeping Up With Kasher

February 3, 2017 by
Illustration by Derek Joy

Anyone who went to dances or homecoming festivities at Creighton Prep, Marian, Duchesne Academy, Cathedral, or other Omaha high schools from late-1989 through the early ’90s probably bounced their head to the beat of a cover band called The March Hares. At the time, no one realized they were witnessing one of the most original talents ever to come out of Omaha.

Tim Kasher,  “like most ragged teenage guitar players,” had already been bitten by the underground bug when he and four Prep mates, including Matt Maginn and Matt Oberst, older brother of future indie singer-songwriter Conor Oberst, formed the group. They performed covers of bands like The Clash, The Cure, and R.E.M. in public, while playing original music in one another’s basements.

“It was a good little business,” recalls Kasher fondly, from his home in Los Angeles. “We found what got us most excited and, instead of baseball, it was music.”

tim-kasherMore than 25 years later, music still gets the indie rocker excited and “out of bed every morning.”  He’s writing and recording original songs for his current bands, Cursive and The Good Life. He’s also using his degree in English from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to write screenplays and, as always, testing the limits of his vocal cords.

“It’s definitely getting tougher to push the voice,” admits Kasher, 42, whose nasal and sometimes pitchy cries of anguish make his voice unmistakable. “I long to be 20 again, when I could scream as much as I wanted to. I can’t mistreat it now.”

Kasher will have to pace himself this spring when he goes on tour promoting a new solo album, his third. Titled No Resolution, the album comes out in March and, according to Kasher, features the lush sounds of strings, which he helped arrange.

True to form, Kasher wrote and directed a low-budget, feature-length film of the same name that uses all the songs from the album. “The film No Resolution is about a couple in their 30s who get engaged because she’s pregnant,” Kasher explains. “It’s set over New Year’s Eve, an appropriate backdrop to expose that the guy isn’t quite ready.”

Omahans saw an early edit of the film during the Omaha Film Festival last March. The final cut comes out this summer. Unlike many of his lyrics, the movie contains no autobiographical details. A happy and devoted Kasher married an editor at L.A. Weekly about one year ago. The couple live in the Silver Lake neighborhood, where they mingle with a sizeable group of Omaha transplants.
The musician’s private contentment hasn’t tempered his desire for professional independence. With the new year comes an announcement sure to send tremors through Omaha’s indie sphere: Kasher now has his own record label called 15 Passenger, a nod to an old touring van.

“The new album is on it. We also have all our master reels for Cursive, so we’re going to be releasing our back catalog, along with new stuff” he says. “We’re not planning on getting into the game of taking big gambles on new artists. Just self-releasing.”

What about Omaha-based Saddle Creek Records, the label formed and grown, in part, from Kasher’s talent? “Saddle Creek is alive and well. We’re just transitioning over.”

With a new album, new film, and a new record label, the beat goes on for Tim Kasher.

Visit timkasher.com for more information.

Matinee Marriage

March 16, 2015 by
Illustration by William Holland

The metro’s small but robust cinema community includes Film Streams and the Omaha Film Festival (see related story on page 42) along with several working industry professionals, among them Oscar-winning cinematographer Mauro Fiore (Avatar). He’s among three Academy Award recipients residing here. The others are editor Mike Hill (Apollo 13), and filmmaker Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendants).

Fiore’s most recent director of photography feature work came on The Equalizer in Boston. The projected 2015 release reunited him with Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington from Training Day.

But Fiore, originally from Italy, isn’t the only film pro in his own household. His wife Christine Vollmer Fiore, a native Nebraskan, is a costume designer now developing a feature adaptation of The Persian Pickle Club. Mauro’s slated to light it.

The couple actually met in 1997 on an independent picture largely shot in Nebraska, Love from Ground Zero. At the time each lived in L.A., traveling wherever projects called them. Christine finds it “ironic” the film that brought their itinerant lives together happened in her home state. They settled here after marrying. He regularly goes off to do commercials and features.

They are the parents of three children—Olivia, Tessa and Luca. The Fiores view the state as a healthy grounding from the hustle, bustle and hype of L.A., where they also have a home.

“We knew we didn’t want to raise kids in L.A.,” Christine says. “It’s kind of nice to be here and have blinders on and not be affected by what’s out there.”

It’s a stable sanctuary they can count on.

“It’s nice to have a firm place and not really worry about Christine when I’m gone because her family’s here,’ Mauro says. “I feel really safe there’s somebody here to support her. I’ve come to really appreciate it because when I’m here it’s all about the family and helping Christine any way I can.”

During his absences Christine runs a tight ship. “I’m very schedule and routine-oriented,” she says. She purposely doesn’t make a big deal of his departures.

“It’s kind of no-nonsense, no-tear because it’d be too tough emotionally. It’s like, ‘Dad’s leaving but he’s going to come back and now I need help around the house from all of you.’ Then when Mauro comes back home we still have the same routine. Dinner’s at 5:30. I think it makes it easy for Mauro to kind of slide back in.”

That normal, laidback lifestyle is what appeals to the Fiores.

“Omaha is manageable,” Christine says. “It’s easy to go to the airport and to the zoo…”

“It’s easy, it’s familiar,” Mauro adds. “We’ve found several friends around the community of schools the kids attend.”

They enjoy, too, how much more house they can afford here. They lived in Hawaiian Village before moving into their present home over a year ago. The ranch-style in Elkhorn sits on a six-acre lot with a view.

“We really love the property,” Mauro says. “It has a piece of land that stretches out to the river. You don’t really find that too much anymore.”

They appreciate the open floor plan, banks of tall windows and homey features.

He says, “It’s just the uniqueness of the place and the fact we can really grow into this and make it our home.”

“It’s not like a builder’s model home,” Christine says. “It’s different, it has personality.”

They’re now updating the downstairs to accommodate a craft room for the sewing Christine and the kids do.

In her spare time she wears her producer hat trying to get Persian Pickle Club financed. Setting up a film is a new experience for them.

“It’s been a great learning process to see the inner workings because I never really knew what it took. I’m never on that side of it,” he says.

He admires how “Christine’s done it all from here—figuring out ways to push it along.”

They’re admittedly anxious to start production because making films is what they know best.

Mauro eagerly shares his expertise. He photographed an Omaha Film Festival promo. He’s served as a panelist-presenter at OFF and Film Streams. The couple supports the opera, the symphony, KANEKO and other local arts-cultural offerings they find on par with anywhere.

The family often visits his far-flung movie locations. His Hollywood colleagues are surprised he lives far afield from film industry centers.

“They find it very odd,” he says. “But with Alexander Payne, Nebraska also sort of has a mystique. They appreciate it’s a different way of living, more old fashioned or traditional.”