It was my intention to write a sort of review or report on Feature VI, the annual fund-raiser program by Film Streams that happened Monday night at the Holland Performing Arts Center. I’d even brought a small notebook about the size of a moleskin and a pen to jot down particularly clever, pithy or ingenious comments from the night’s special guests, directors Alexander Payne and David O. Russell.
But after the first 10 minutes of Russell’s stream-of-conscious retelling of his flight from Salt Lake City and observations on midwestern fashion stereotypes, his childhood adulation of Omaha Steaks and meeting Todd Simon, his experiences shopping at Jackson Street Booksellers and eating vegetarian burritos in a glass-box office that looked like a scene from a Kubrick film, it became obvious that I wasn’t going to be taking any notes.
Especially considering the way Payne (who played the roll of the MC) was going to meander through the next hour and forty-five minutes of (mostly) unstructured Q&A divided into segments by clips from Russell’s last few films. The directors chatted like two old friends catching up on each other’s lives, sharing observations about their craft in front of a packed house of adoring fans. It was that kind of night.
When it came time to write about what I just experienced, my mind instead wandered to when I first heard about the idea of Film Streams and the Ruth Sokolof Theater way back in 2005, almost 10 years ago. Need I say it, but it was a time before Netflix, when Blockbuster Video was still in business renting DVDs, and when the Dundee Theater was the only place in town to see first-run independent, foreign or “art” films. And even then, the Dundee being a single-screen theater only presented about 25 films a year, about one per week, with many being held over a second week (and sometimes a third or fourth).
Back then, when Teresa and I would escape Omaha for long weekends in New York, we dedicated at least one night per vacation to seek out a particularly interesting independent film we’d read about in Time Out New York that we knew would never make it to Omaha, at least not until it was released on DVD.
And then along came Rachel Jacobson and her idea for Film Streams and its a two-screen Ruth Sokolof movie house dedicated in showing independent films and revivals — it was as if Rachel flew in with a helicopter and dropped a slice of Manhattan just north of downtown Omaha. We have been Film Streams members since the day the theater opened in 2007. It’s been money well spent.
Today. Film Streams is as relevant as ever, despite the fact that independent, foreign and classic films have never been more accessible. Over the last decade, we’ve watched as the internet has decimated the publishing business, leaving in its wake a collection of abandoned Border’s book stores, like the beige cinderblock hulk that sits vacant at the southwest corner of 72nd and Dodge streets. Who needs bookstores when you’ve got Amazon and Kindle?
And then there’s the music industry, suffering its worse financial year in history with album sales in the U.S. at an all-time low. Brick-and-mortar record stores are slowly going the way of the dinosaur thanks to iTunes, the internet and streaming services like Spotify. Only the most savvy independent stores, like Homer’s, are finding ways to remain open. Ironically, it is the vinyl record, given last rites decades ago, that may play a role in the music industry’s survival, as vinyl sales are at their highest in 15 years.
The film industry — specifically movie theaters — would appear to be as vulnerable to technology as books and music. After all, how many times has Film Streams screened a film that is readily available for viewing on my 65-inch flat screen via Netflix or Amazon Prime? And yet, we continue to drive downtown to see it on a bigger screen, surrounded by strangers eating popcorn in the dark. Given a choice, we wouldn’t do it any other way.
At a time when you’d expect movie theaters to be closing left and right, new ones are popping up everywhere and old ones are being refurbished, like my old friend the Dundee Theater (though owner Denny Moran could pick up the pace a little; it’s been closed for more than two years).
Movie houses and cineplexes will always be around because watching films is a community event. You’re surrounded in that darkened auditorium by friends and neighbors and people of a like mind drawn to the theater that evening for all the same reasons you were: to be entertained, enlightened, knocked out by something we haven’t seen before, something that can’t be experienced the same way in our living rooms.
It was why we were all there at The Holland Monday night. In addition to having a laugh with our new friends David and Alexander, we, the community of film lovers, were saying thank you to Rachel and all of her friends and associates who have made Film Streams work, and will continue to make it work as the curtains part night after night into the foreseeable future.
Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org