As a veteran of one sweep around the festival circuit, I’ve been to some wonderful festivals… and a few that were no fun.
Let me draw an analogy: I frequently work in the developing world, and have a rating system for bathrooms—starting with one (hole in the ground) and building up to a 13 (Heathrow Airport restrooms with the rotating plastic wrap). Each additional amenity (walls, a toilet, a seat, a door, a lock on the door, a light, a sink, soap, no flies, paper products, a trashcan, a flush, a mirror…) adds to the number.
The list of things that good film festivals do right is just as concrete. Omaha Film Festival—which I attended this spring with co-producer/DP Rob Lyall, with our feature documentary about the opioid crisis, Written Off—gets my highest rating. Here’s why:
- Projection and sound at festivals can be a regular torture, but at Omaha it is simply perfect. The staff check everything and films play on big, beautiful screens.
- They program a high caliber of films. It quickly became obvious that it was an honor to be included.
- Good films mean good filmmakers, which makes being there in person so worth it.
- They are inspiring a new generation of filmmakers with the OFF Academy: workshops and screenings for area high school kids.
- The panels at the fest are cross-pollinated by world-class professionals brought in for the Academy, so everyone wins.
- The famous Midwestern hospitality is real. We were made to feel welcome by everyone, from the festival organizers to the countless enthusiastic volunteers.
- They have the coolest swag—T-shirts, sweatshirts, buttons, tote bags—and a rad logo.
- It’s well organized. The staff pays forensic attention to giving out and collecting audience award ballots, they communicate the details of every event and party, they help people get rides, they pay for filmmakers’ hotel stays. They just have the details down.
- They care about getting people in to see your film. OFF even delayed ours a few minutes to allow for another film’s long Q&A to wrap up.
- If you so desire, you can have a beer and White Castle hamburgers while you watch films.
- They work all year long to promote film and filmmaking in Omaha.
- They print custom tickets for each film, with its own art. Honestly, that’s my single favorite thing. It’s such a metaphor for OFF—thoughtful and awesome.
- The bathrooms are pretty nice, too. MM
Molly Hermann is a producer/director/writer of film and TV, and co-founder of the Washington, D.C.-based boutique production company The Biscuit Factory.
Omaha Film Festival 2017 ran March 7-12, 2017. This article appears in MovieMaker‘s Summer 2017 issue. Top image photographed by Daniel Dunlap: Omaha Film Festival 2017 audiences wait for showtime at the Village Pointe Cinema.