Streams: Wide Awake and Dreaming
story by tim mcmahan
Lazy-i: Aug. 3, 2005
The idea of opening a hip independent movie house
in dusty old Omaha has always been in the back of Rachel Jacobson's
Maybe even as far back as when she was 16 and saw
Pulp Fiction for the first time at the long lost Indian Hills
Theater. "Pulp Fiction was so all-over-the-place, just
in the way it was edited," Jacobson said over iced coffee at
Blue Line in Dundee. "I just remember being blown away by it."
She was also blown away by Kicking and Screaming -- not
the Will Ferrell soccer film (the suggestion of which immediately
tipped my hand), but the chatty 1995 version with hunky Eric Stoltz
and edgy Parker Posey, directed by newcomer Noah Baumbach who would
go on to write The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou along with
indie darling Wes Anderson. She saw that one at the Dundee Theater.
Jacobson said those early film experiences changed her perspective
on what movies could be. The 1996 Central High grad brought those
experiences with her to the University of Illinois, Champaign/Urbana,
where on her way to her English major she took a handful of film
history and criticism courses. That's where she was introduced to
Hitchcock and Altman, French films and documentaries. "That's
really when I got the idea of moving home and opening a movie theater."
That theater is yet to be named, but
the company is called Film Streams, and Jacobson is the founder/executive
director. The theater, to be built as part of the Saddle Creek Records
/ Bluestone project in the awkwardly nicknamed "No Do"
or North Downtown development just west of the Qwest Center, will
feature two screens -- a 208-seat room for first-run independent
films and a 99-seat room for retrospectives, film series and genre
flicks. But Film Streams will be more than just a couple movie screens.
It's no accident that the independent movie house is tied to one
of the country's most successful independent record companies. Jacobson
has been friends with the people that operate Saddle Creek records
and its bands for a long time. She first met label guru Robb Nansel
back in the fall of 2003 while living in New York pursuing a career
in non-profit fund raising. Nansel was in town for a couple Cursive
shows at the Bowery Ballroom. "One night Robb and I were walking
to a Bulgarian disco and he started telling me about the trouble
he was having finding a space for his club," Jacobson said.
Nansel's search for the "right space" for Slowdown --
his combination music hall, bar and Creek office project -- goes
back many years. While the two were brainstorming locations, Jacobson
told Nansel about her dream of moving back to Omaha to open an indie
film theater. "Robb just said, 'You're gonna do it.' But we
didn't put the two projects together at the time."
Eventually, however, the ideas were merged, and Jacobson said her
father David Jacobson, chairman of law firm Kutak Rock and an avid
movie and rock music fan, got involved. With the help of fellow
Kutak Rock attorney and Criteria
frontman Stephen Pederesen, he called a meeting at his offices to
discuss the project. "It was me, dad, Robb, (Saddle Creek's)
Jason Kulbel, and my sister, Sarah," Jacobson said. "Dad
ordered in Mama's Pizza and we just talked about the possibilities.
He said if we can figure out a way to collaborate on this, Kutak
can get behind it."
But other than everyone agreeing that it was a good idea, nothing
came out of the meeting. Years passed and Jacobson kept in touch
socially with the Creek folks. Then in January 2005, just after
she sent in her application to Columbia University to pursue a Master's
degree in Arts Administration, Nansel called and said he was heading
to New York to see a Bright Eyes show, and that maybe the two should
Nansel was still licking his wounds from the drubbing he took after
proposing to build the Slowdown project (sans a movie theater) in
Omaha's Metcalf Park neighborhood. The outcome, however, was the
beginning of Saddle Creek's relationship with the City of Omaha,
who recognized what a prize they had in the nationally recognized
record label and helped identify the downtown location.
"Robb said the City thought it was a good idea to have a theater
involved with the project," Jacobson said. "I decided
right then and there to do it. I couldn't pass up the opportunity
to be part of this new Omaha development and be affiliated with
Saddle Creek." She moved back to Omaha June 1.
Jacobson's plan has always been to make Film Streams a non-profit
entity, effectively freeing it from commercial constraints. Instead
of sweating ticket sales, Film Streams will be funded through contributions
generated from membership programs, individual donors, and grants
from foundations, corporations and government organizations.
"Dad ordered in Mama's Pizza and we
just talked about the possibilities. He said if we can figure
out a way to collaborate on this, Kutak can get behind it."
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"All my experiences at Miramax were
pretty dark. It was a pretty rough first job in the industry
that reaffirmed my desire to work in a non-profit, mission-based
Her distaste for the commercial film
world came after a stint working at Miramax. As the assistant to
the senior executive vice president of distribution, Jacobson booked
screenings for publicity and market research. "It was a crazy
experience," she said, recalling one research screening for
the Todd Field film In the Bedroom.
"I remember the director pacing outside," she said. The
movie bombed with the research group, and because she wasn't allowed
to watch the movie at the screening, she doesn't know if it was
altered as a result. Regardless, In the Bedroom ended up
being nominated for five Academy Awards.
"All my experiences at Miramax were pretty dark," Jacobson
said. "It was a pretty rough first job in the industry that
reaffirmed my desire to work in a non-profit, mission-based organization."
Learning about film distribution was the experience's other reward.
"I now know the other side of the coin dealing with studios,"
she said. Regardless, she plans on hiring a professional booker
for the Film Streams theaters, allowing her to focus on choosing
the movies. Her criteria?
"I'm not going to show what's showing at the Dundee Theater
or at the large cineplexes," she said. "I'm going to pick
the best independent films available at the time or films by my
favorite directors. If it were open now, I'd be showing Grizzly
Man (the new documentary film by German director Werner Herzog)."
Meanwhile, in the smaller retro theater, Jacobson said she might
be showing something like the 1971 Mike Nichols classic Carnal
"I was watching that before I came here," she said (the
Film Streams offices are currently located in her Dundee apartment).
"I hated the fact that I wasn't seeing it on the big screen
for the first time."
Despite the popularity of home-video outlets like NetFlix and "Movies
On Demand," Jacobson says going to movies will always be an
important cultural event.
"It's the closest thing we have to a collective subconscious,"
she said. "You walk out of a movie theater with 40 people that
all had the same dream. That's an important singular experience
and how movies are meant to be seen."
Some fast facts about Film Streams:
- Film Streams Mission: To enhance the cultural environment
of Omaha through the presentation and discussion of film.
- Projected Opening: Late Summer 2006
- Location: Between 13th and 14th streets and Webster and
Cumming streets in downtown Omaha.
- Two screens: one 208-seat room (first run films), the
other 99-seat room (repertory selections)
- Education program: Film Streams will employ "teaching
artists" to teach film history and criticism courses to Omaha
high school students.
- Q&A's: Post-screening Q&A sessions will be held
with film critics and film professionals (actors, directors, screenwriters).
- Local Filmmaker Screenings: The theater will host special
one-time screenings for local independent filmmakers.
- Concessions: The usual stuff, plus baked goods and other
- Fund-raising: Film Streams capitol campaign is about
to kick off, along with its membership drives. Memberships will
be at a $40 and $100 level with different amenities, though all
will receive invitation to members-only events, a newsletter with
film schedule, discounts on admission and concessions, a weekly
e-mail newsletter, and participation in special programs.
- Film Streams Board of Directors includes David Jacobson,
Rachel's father and head of law firm Kutak Rock, and Omaha native
Kurt Andersen, founder of Spy Magazine and host of NPR program
- Website: www.filmstreams.org
Published in The Omaha Reader Aug 3, 2005. Copyright
© 2005 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.