It was going to be the panel discussion that was the stuff local movie fans’ dreams are made of. But it wasn’t to be — at least not yet.
All three of Omaha’s Academy-Award-winning filmmakers were going to appear together at the Omaha Film Festival this weekend, talking about their craft at the filmmaker conference in a Sunday panel discussion.
The film festival opened last night and continues screening 27 feature films and 64 shorts through Sunday at Regal Cinema, 7440 Crown Point Ave.
The filmmaker conference Saturday and Sunday will have presenters including actors William Katt (“Carrie”), Yolonda Ross (“Antwone Fisher”) and Jessalyn Gilsig (“Heroes,” “Glee”); screenwriters Jim Kouf (“National Treasure,” “Rush Hour”) and Tim Dowling (“Role Models”); and writer-director David Greenwalt (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”).
But not, as hoped, our trio of hometown Academy Award winners.
The trouble with Oscar winners is their schedules. The demands on their time can be sudden and intense. And two out of the three had to bow out of the festival because of pressing obligations.
In the case of director-screenwriter Alexander Payne, whose Oscars came for co-writing “The Descendants” and “Sideways,” the obligation was his next movie, “Nebraska,” which he shot mostly in his home state last fall and is now shaping in post-production.
The black-and-white movie, starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte on a father-son road trip, is already stirring Oscar speculation, though it’s not expected to open until next fall.
Cinematographer Mauro Fiore, who won his Oscar for shooting best-picture winner “Avatar,” was on the roster until just a week ago, when he was called away to shoot a commercial in New Zealand.
Fiore was all set to talk about “Runner, Runner,” a movie about online gambling for which he was director of photography. It will open in September. It stars Justin Timberlake as a graduate student who gets hooked on online gambling, loses big, and travels to Costa Rica to confront the website’s chief executive, played by Ben Affleck.
The kid ends up working for the mogul. But, as in “Wall Street,” he eventually becomes disillusioned when he learns his mentor is corrupt.
Fiore said the movie was filmed last summer in Puerto Rico, capturing the culture of the island.
Still on Sunday’s roster at the film festival: Mike Hill, who has been nominated for an Academy Award four times, along with his film editing partner, Dan Hanley. They have the good fortune to be director Ron Howard’s editors, and they won their Oscar for “Apollo 13.”
Hill has been on vacation in Sarasota, Fla., after work on Howard’s next movie, “Rush,” was completed in late 2012. The movie is about Formula One race car drivers Niki Lauda, an Austrian, and James Hunt, a Brit. Their rivalry peaked in the 1976 season, when the movie takes place.
“They were actually friends, but very different personalities, and their rivalry was intense,” Hill said last week. “We shot the whole thing in Europe, mostly in England.”
Chris Hemsworth (“Thor,” “The Avengers”) plays Hunt, and actually looks something like him, Hill said. Daniel Brühl, who played an honored sniper in the second half of “Inglourious Basterds,” portrays Lauda.
The movie was technically challenging, Hill said, not only because of the racing scenes but because a lot of digital work had to be done to re-create the backgrounds of 1970s racing venues from around the world.
“Rush” is expected to open in September. Meantime, Hill is taking it easy while Howard decides what movie he will make next.
“At this stage of my career — I’m almost 64 — I’m not really intersted in working for anybody else,” Hill said. “I’ll just work with Ron as long as he’ll have me.”
Howard is considering three projects. One is about a whaling ship that was the inspiration for “Moby Dick.” Another is about Mormonism and is based on Jon Krakauer’s nonfiction book “Under the Banner of Heaven.”
They may not have a panel discussion in common this year, but all three of our most distinguished moviemakers are backers of the Omaha Film Festival and have appeared before at its filmmaker conference.
Hill said the festival is great for Omaha because it introduces movies that local fans would otherwise not have a chance to see. “I hope it can continue,” he said. “It’s a great thing for the city to have.”
Fiore said he appreciated the grass-roots efforts of founders Jeremy Decker and Jason Levering to start the festival, and their continuing commitment to it.
“They had, like, 500 entries this year,” he said. “And as they develop it year after year, more and more people are contributing and becoming a part of it. Besides that, I’ve seen some really good films that debuted here.”