Since opening its doors July 27, 2007, Film Streams has built a reputation as a well-respected art-house movie theater in the Midwest. Photo courtesy of Tom Kessler, via Flickr.
“I had budgeted initially for 500 members,” Film Streams founder Rachel Jacobson recollected. “I never imagined that we’d have 2,000. I mean, that really just shows how great Omaha is about supporting this kind of thing.”
The “thing” Rachel’s referring to is a nonprofit art-house movie theater located in Omaha’s North Downtown District. In the summer of 2007, with the help of family and friends, the business idea that was once a dream of Rachel’s officially opened it’s doors.
Actually, I think calling it a dream might be an understatement. When I interviewed Rachel a couple weeks ago to hear about her experience starting and running Film Streams, she referred to the idea as an “epiphany.”
“I just had this epiphany that I would start this art-house movie theater,” Rachel said.
She was a senior in college at the time, but it wasn’t until a few years later that the ball began to roll. She was living in New York City and a friend of her’s from Omaha, Robb Nansel of Saddle Creek Records, was in town for a Cursive show. The two met up and caught up about Omaha – Robb telling Rachel that he was looking for space for a concert venue, office, and warehouse, and Rachel telling Robb that she was wanting to return to Omaha to open up a theater that would show foreign and independent films.
“You’re going to be the one that’s going to do that,” Rachel distinctly remembers Robb telling her that day. As things would have it, Nansel ended up having a big role in making that happen. When he was encouraged by the City of Omaha to develop his concert venue and office space in the North Downtown District, he was also given the responsibility of choosing his neighbors. Needless to say, Rachel received a call. Construction of Film Streams began in the summer of 2006. Before the Saddle Creek Complex was built, there wasn’t too much in the area. Photo by Film Streams via Flickr.
“I can’t imagine better timing for this whole thing,” Rachel said about the fact that they opened their doors around the same time as Slowdown, Nansel’s concert venue. “What Saddle Creek has done for the cultural community here is absolutely incredible. It’s not just the label, it’s the artists and it’s just all these people working together [and supporting each other].”
A recent photo of the Saddle Creek Records Complex at night. The entrance for Slowdown (far left by parked car) is just a couple hundred feet from Film Streams (on corner). Photo courtesy of Tom Kessler, via Flickr.
Today, Rachel works on daily basis with her own staff of three full-time co-workers as well as a number of dedicated part-time employees, union projectionists, volunteers, advisory board members, and members of her board of directors. Amongst the latter group is the well-known Omaha-native Alexander Payne, whom Rachel calls “one of the most important directors working in Hollywood right now.”
“[Alexander]’s seriously one of the founders of the organization,” Rachel said. “I mean, he’s not on the board just in name.” She described him as very hands-on and a huge part of making the endeavor succeed. “We’re really lucky to have someone like him that has such a huge heart for this community still.”
As a nonprofit, Film Streams relies heavily on the community for support – fundraising dollars make up for 50% of its annual budget. But even with the responsibility and stress of raising those dollars, it’s evident that Rachel puts the film showings first. “Our bottom line is our mission,” Rachel said, “to enhance the cultural environment of the Omaha-Council Bluffs area through the presentation and discussion of film as an art form.”
This mission came through more than once in my interview with Rachel, from our discussion about Film Streams’ programming to its community partners, but most notable was its presence in her recollection of her epiphany to open the theater. “[A]t the time, I really thought it would just be about picking films and showing them to people and sharing this great art, and, you know, there’s obviously a lot more to it than that,” she said with a chuckle. “But that’s still the heart and soul of this job and it’s really fun.”
I’m certain she’s having fun.
Photo of Film Streams lobby above courtesy of Tom Kessler, via Flickr.
View my abridged interview (link to full interview below) to hear more of the story behind Film Streams, learn about this year’s “local filmmaker initiative,” and find out what makes Film Streams unique compared with other theaters in the country (hint: film reels).
To view my full interview with Rachel, visit: siliconprairienews.com/videos/interview-with-rachel-jacobson-full. Hear her tell more of the story behind Film Streams, her thoughts on what Omaha could do to improve the arts, the importance of Alexander Payne and Kurt Anderson to Film Streams, and Rachel’s favorite actor, director, movie, and theater (outside of Film Streams, of course).
And if you’re interested in Rachel’s story, I encourage you to read these articles:
- When Omaha Met Cinema (2008) by Eric Konigsberg, New York Times
- Film Streams Flows in Downtown Omaha (2007) by Wendy Townley, One Magazine
- Film Streams: Wide Awake and Dreaming (2005) by Tim McMahan, Lazy-I