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Film 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 mind.

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. Lots more.

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 talk.

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."












"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 organization."



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 Knowledge.

"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."

Details, details...

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 non-traditional treats.
  • 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 "Studio 360."
  • Website:

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Published in The Omaha Reader Aug 3, 2005. Copyright 2005 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.