On March 7, 2017, we will drop the lights and raise the curtain on the 12th annual Omaha Film Festival (OFF), a nonprofit labor of love and our way of elevating our community, filmmakers and the arts.

Fade in to three budding filmmakers driving back from a film festival in Norfolk, Neb. They start batting around the question: Why isn’t there anything like this in Omaha?

Dissolve to more than a decade later. OFF is now recognized by MovieMaker magazine as one of the “50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee.”

Jeremy Decker, Jason Levering, and I, three guys who live, work, eat and drink in Omaha, set out to build something like Sundance or the Austin Film Festival – our way of celebrating the artistic, educational, and historical importance of motion pictures, only closer to home.

Sometimes, there is a perception, when you hear the words ‘film festival,’ that it’s going to be pretentious black and white documentaries about things that you don’t care about – or films shot in people’s backyards with terrible actors.

OFF is neither one of those.

We show what we consider the top independent films circulating that year in film festivals, including a lot of films that premiere at Sundance or Slamdance every January. I always tell people who don’t understand what OFF is – if you like movies, there’s going to be something that you’ll enjoy. We have comedies, dramas, action-adventures, animated shorts… (Over the course of a week, OFF showcases over 90 films selected from an average of over 500 annual entries.) If you think you don’t like documentaries, come and see at least one of ours. I think it will change your mind pretty quickly.

Since we are from the community and built OFF for the community, showcasing local talent is also a priority for us. Every year, we have a Nebraska Spotlight category – three full blocks of Nebraska shorts. If we get feature films or documentaries that are made locally, we like to highlight those too.

One of the most engaging things about film festivals – and certainly OFF – is what happens after the final credits roll. We bring in as many of the filmmakers as possible so the audience can interact with the people who made the art. Past guests have included Famke Janssen, Chad Michael Murray, Jaime King, Mauro Fiore, Mike Hill and Shane Black.

Over the last 11 years, we’ve also made great strides towards becoming one of the Midwest’s premier teaching festivals, offering opportunities for filmmakers, students, and film enthusiasts to learn more about the craft of filmmaking through panels, lectures, and workshops at our annual Filmmakers Conference. Just last year, we launched OFF Academy, our high school educational outreach program. For two days during the festival, we connect high school kids with filmmakers and the screenwriters so they can learn about all aspects of filmmaking. That outreach extends to filmmaking classes at Westside High School and Creighton Prep. It’s all about educating, entertaining and inspiring – and it is a super-rewarding part of what we do.

Now, couple that with the overwhelming return that comes from the reactions of participants and audience members: the high school student profoundly impacted by seeing their film on the big screen with friends and family in the audience or the attendee who caught a documentary that potentially changed their life. That pays for itself.

Beyond that, Jason, Jeremy and I – and our team of dedicated volunteers – are proud to simply contribute to a body of incredible, locally-created and -supported cultural events in Omaha, including Omaha Fashion Week and Maha Music Festival. It’s important for people to do things they love – and if you can support local events and the community at the same time, bonus. All the better.

Next spring, we’d love for you to sit back, relax and celebrate the art of motion pictures with us at the 12th Annual Omaha Film Festival, March 7-12, 2017. There truly is something for everyone – stories that are daring, courageous, risk-taking, and filled with discovery and wonder.

Are you a filmmaker or screenwriter? The Call for Entries for entries is now open with three ways to enter. Last year, OFF awarded over $32,000 in prizes to participating filmmakers and screenwriters.

Film categories:
Narrative Feature, Documentary, Short Film, Animated Short, Nebraska Short and Nebraska Spotlight.

Screenplay categories:
Feature Screenplay & Short Screenplay (under 30 pages)

Follow OFF on Facebook or Twitter for the latest news. 

Fade out.