‘Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film’ book signing meet and greet @ Our Bookstore

November 7, 2017 Leave a comment

“Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film”

Book signing meet and greet

@Our Bookstore, Old Market Passageway

Monday, Nov. 13

5-7 p.m.

 

 

 

This Fall is a cinema showcase to remember in Nebraska: 

•Omaha’s own Alexander Payne will be back in December with his new movie, “Downsizing.” The sci-fi satire shot a few days in Omaha with stars Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig.  
 
•The Oscar-winner’s film will premiere at Omaha’s last remaining neighborhood movie house, the historic Dundee Theater, where his silver screen dreams were stirred and his first feature, “Citizen Ruth,” played. 
•The renovated landmark is beginning a new life under the management of Film Streams. Check out my New Horizons cover story about this return engagement for the ages in the Nov. issue.
 
•Through my work as an Omaha film journalist, I’ve created a book celebrating the writer-director’s creative process: “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film.” The new edition features expanded content.
 
•Join me for a book signing meet & greet @ Our Bookstore: Monday, Nov. 13, Old Market Passageway, 5-7 p.m.. Hor dourves and refreshments will be served.
•The $25.95 book makes a great gift for film lovers. 
 
Hope to see you there.
 
 
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Dundee Theater: Return engagement for the ages

October 28, 2017 2 comments

When the iconic Dundee Theater appeared in danger of being lost, perhaps to the scrap heap of history, along came a means to save it courtesy Susie Buffett. Her Sherwood Foundation purchased it and donated it to Omaha’s art cinema nonprofit Film Streams, which successfully raised millions of dollars for its renovation, led by Rachel Jacobson. Before the end of the year, the newly made-over movie and stage house that dates back to 1925 will reopen after being closed for more than four years and host the theatrical premiere of the latest major Hollywood motion picture by Omaha’s own Oscar-winning filmmaker, Alexander Payne, when his “Downsizing” plays there in December. This return engagement for the ages is a personal project for everyone involved. Buffett, Jacobson and Payne all grew up watching movies there. Payne’s first feature “Citizen Ruth” played the Dundee and now his seventh feature “Downsizing’ will play there, too. This time his movie will help usher in the theater’s new era. This is my November 2017 New Horizons cover story about the Dundee Theater – its past, present and future, The issue with my story should be hitting newstands and mailboxes this weekend and no later than October 31. The story includes comments about the Dundee from several people, including Payne, all of whom share a great love for the theater. On a personal note, I share that love, too. It’s where so many of us from here lost it at the movies. 

You can access a PDF of the New Horizons at:

https://www.facebook.com/newhorizonsnewspaper/

Here are some extra Alexander Payne reflections on the Dundee Theater:

“I spent a considerable amount of time in all of Omaha¹s movie theaters when I was growing up, from the old palaces downtown (Omaha, State, Cooper, and Orpheum) to the Admiral, Indian Hills, Fox, Six West and Cinema Center. But the one I probably spent the most time in was the Dundee, since I could walk to it, as soon as I could walk. I can¹t even say I was ‘proud’ of it – it was just always there.

“I saw ‘The Sound of Music’ there six times when I was 4 years old. It played there for many months, and you know how little kids like to see the same thing over and over again. My older brothers used to take me to the Saturday morning show for kids – usually monster movies, and they had giveaways.

“In the early ’70s, they showed revivals of W.C. Fields, Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy – those early comedies had something of a renaissance then. In more recent times, when the Morans had it, I used to love the midnight shows of ’70s movies. I caught ‘Midnight Cowboy’ there just a few years ago.”

On having “Citizen Ruth” play there:

Well, that was a big deal to me, to have my first feature play at my neighborhood movie house. I still have a framed photo of the marquee hanging in my house. It meant something to Laura Dern too – while shooting ‘Citizen Ruth,’ she, Jim Taylor and I had seen ‘The English Patient’ there and walked out halfway through.

On soon having “Downsizing” play there:

“I expect to have the same delight I had when ‘Citizen Ruth’ premiered there 20 years ago, but ever more-so because it now belongs to Film Streams. It will serve as a new anchor in the elegantly-blossoming Omaha and will exist as our neighborhood movie theater for the next 100 years.”

 

 

 

 

Dundee Theater: Return engagement for the ages

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in the November 2017 issue of the New Horizons newspaper

The return this fall of the long dormant Dundee Theater under its new Film Streams brand is cause for celebration whether you’re a movie fanatic or not.

Once the theater closed in 2013 for renovations, then-owner Denny Moran assured the public the theater would reopen once renovations were completed. But the project kept getting delayed and by 2015 rumors spread he was looking to sell. The rumors were true. Moran fielded offers with no guarantee the theater would remain intact. Speculation grew. Neighbors and preservationists didn’t want an irreplaceable icon torn down for some generic new development.

With its future uncertain, many feared it might meet the same sad fate as the Cinerama palace Indian Hills that got razed for a parking lot in 2001.

Even before Moran called it quits, Rachel Jacobson and the board of her north downtown art cinema, Film Streams, eyed acquiring the theater as a second venue should the Dundee ever falter.

“We knew that as a nonprofit organization with a really strong board and donor base and with a good reputation in the community that we would be in the best position to take it on if it was threatened,” she said.

Once Jacobson learned the Dundee was indeed on the market and its fate in question, she contacted Moran and philanthropist Susie Buffett, a major Film Streams donor, and a deal was struck.

When news broke Buffett bought the Dundee and donated it to Film Streams, this two-reeler cliffhanger got a happy ending.

New life for theater gets thumbs-up 

From 2013 to now, it’s been the most closely followed local movie theater saga since the Indian Hills debacle. Why so much interest? In one fell swoop, Omaha’s regained a rare neighborhood theater that’s catered to audiences for nine decades and preserved an historic building that’s served as cultural touchstone, landmark and neighborhood fixture.

“The Dundee Theater has not only brought art and culture to central Omaha, it has also served to let people driving by know where they are for nearly a century,” said longtime Dundee resident and theater patron Thomas Gouttiere.

The 2016 announcement this historic building would be saved, undergo millions of dollars in renovations and have new life as a millennial art cinema center, was met with relief and gratitude by area movie fans and Dundee neighborhood residents.

That appreciation extended to $7.5 million raised in a public campaign to support the theater’s makeover.

“That kind of support does not grow on trees. It has to be earned the hard way – through vision, a lot of hard work and a high quality program. And Rachel Jacobson and her staff have them all.” said Film Streams booster Sam Walker.

“I don’t think we could have ever hoped for a better outcome for the theater than to have Film Streams renovate it and to be able to have the kind of programming they’re going to offer there,” said Vic Gutman. “It’s going to be a huge anchor for what’s already a very vibrant neighborhood,”

David Corbin and Josie Metal-Corbin shared similar sentiments in an email:

“It is nice to see the Dundee Theater returning to the neighborhood. We enjoyed walking to the theater together and seeing great films. Dundee may have lost our grocery store, hardware store and bookstore, but the renovation of the Dundee Theater helps the city and the neighborhood rebuild a sense of community.”

 

 

 

 

 

Dundee Theater found its niche

A sleek new marquee and main entrance pay homage to a rich film heritage while signaling a fresh new start.

“It’s honoring that whole history of moviegoing in our community that’s enriched so many lives,” said Film Streams founder-director Rachel Jacobson.

“Film is arguably the most engaging and innovative art form of the 20th century. How wonderful that art form will be shown in Dundee well into the 21st century in such a charming, hospitable and attractive venue,” Gouttierre said.

Though it grew rough around the edges by the early 2000s and faced increasingly stiff competition from cineplexes and streaming, the Dundee outlasted all the other independent locally owned and operated single-screen theaters. The fact it was the last of Omaha’s still active neighborhood theaters added to its nostalgia and luster.

When the sell was complete, an auction of its old theater seats drew many buyers.

The theater was the main attraction but it once also connected to a video store and bar owned by Moran.

The Dundee set itself apart with its niche for projecting independent, foreign and midnight movies. For a long time, it had the metro art film market nearly to itself. Other than an occasional art film showing up at a chain, it’s only competition for that fare were university (UNO), museum (Joslyn) and film society (New Cinema Coop) series. They eventually disbanded. A short-lived Bellevue operation didn’t last.

“Before Film Streams, the Dundee was the only spot in town if you wanted to see the cool films coming out. As a high schooler, the midnight movies were a big thing to look forward to,” said Nik Fackler, among an impressive group of Dundee devotees who became filmmakers.

“Growing up in the neighborhood, Dundee Theater was always a haven for independent cinema as well as an Omaha landmark,” Quinn Corbin said. “The midnight movies were a wonderful feature of the nightlife scene and the video store provided the movie posters with which I plastered my childhood walls.”

 

 

Changing times, moving on, handing it off

Later, two new players arrived on the scene: Film Streams in 2007 and Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in 2015. In between, the quirky Dundee held on. Then, after 88 years of nearly continuous operation, it closed for renovations that proved too much for Denny Moran and wife Janet. They owned other theater properties as well. The retirement age couple wanted out and sought and found a buyer for it and contiguous properties.

“I didn’t want to run anything anymore,” Moran said. “I’m tired, I don’t want anything. The kids are grown now. Jan and I just want to enjoy ourselves and travel a little bit.”

The Dundee holds many memories for the Morans.  While it was their baby, it was also a burden. Denny Moran is just glad it’s in good hands so it can generate memories for new generations of moviegoers.

“I’m glad its being saved,” he said. “It came down to two other buyers and one other buyer wanted to save it, too. We came close to selling it to them but the wife had little kids and Jan said, ‘I don’t want it to ruin her life like it did mine down there with all the time being spent on theater stuff while the kids are in day care.’ So we went with Susie’s offer. This other couple would have taken care of it, too, but it’s not many times when a Buffett calls.

She’s got the money to put in it for the new infrastructure and to secure its future.”

Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture in collaboration with Lund Ross Construction have kept the old world charm while modernizing it, too. They uncluttered the roofline. They reconfigured the main entrance off Dodge Street on the south side to a new promenade on the north. They added a patio. They folded in a Kitchen Table cafe that leads right into an expanded theater lobby with its original terrazzo floor intact. They added a conference room, a bookstore and a micro auditorium, thus giving Dundee a second screen for the first time.

“It is going to be a neighborhood theater,” Jacobson said, “but we see the audience for the cinema being the entire community. I like to think of it as Omaha’s neighborhood cinema. It still has that feel, that history.”

“It’ll be more than just a movie theater,” Vic Gutman said. “It’s going to be a place for great conversations, for learning about film, being exposed to films you wouldn’t normally see and then having Kitchen Table there. So, I see it as a true social and educational space. And I love the fact that I can walk to it from my home.”

“The purpose of it is to be a real true community space,” Jacobson confirmed. “There are multiple spots throughout that facilitate people coming together and talking either before a film or after a film. It has that design intention of this is what a neighborhood theater can be in the 21st century. We tried to be really thoughtful about that by incorporating the bookstore, by having the micro cinema, which also has the potential to do not only ticketed shows but hosting new adult education ‘Courses’ program there,.

“Kitchen Table will give people another reason to go there, to hang out, without even going to see a movie, and so that creates all these opportunities for interaction, and that’s a big part of what we’re about.

We’re trying to create learning about film by osmosis.”

Jacobson said great care was taken balancing renovation versus restoration “to make what we know will be a sustainable place versus what we maintain for people’s memories and the history of the Dundee.”

Progress on the transformed theater, which sat idle four years, has been closely watched

None of this might have happened if Moran hadn’t hung in there for 30-plus years and waited for the right offer. The theater could easily have been history by now.

“I want to give a shout-out to Denny Moran, who kept it going for so long,” Gutman said. “I don’t think it was a money-maker for him. I think it was a labor of love and a commitment to the neighborhood. It could have been torn down or repurposed for something different a long time ago and he kept that property intact.

“So I think we owe him a thank you for doing that.”

 


Memories

Sentiments about the theater run deep. It’s meant so much to so many.

It’s not hard to imagine a pair of Hollywood legends who grew up in Dundee, the late Henry Fonda and Dorothy McGuire, may have frequented the theater. Though it was still a stage venue when he left Omaha to pursue his acting dreams, he twice did extended play runs here and it’s nice to think he might have caught a picture show or two at Dundee during his down time.

Future late night TV king Johnny Carson may have indulged in some movies at the Dundee when he was starting out at WOW in Omaha.

Other celebs who’ve known it as their neighborhood theater include billionaire investment guru Warren Buffett. His daughter Susie Buffett, who’s also seen her share of pictures there, is responsible for reactivating the theater through her Sherwood Foundation.

Some fans who cut their cinema teeth there have gone on to be feature filmmakers, including Dan Mirvish (Omaha, the Movie) and Nik Fackler (Lovely, Still).

Mirvish grew up near the theater. Besides the Dundee being a neighborhood staple, he echoes others in saying how supportive Moran was of the then-nascent local cinema community in letting emerging filmmakers like himself show their work there.

“I. of course, remember going to movies at the Dundee growing up in the neighborhood and then later renting tapes at the video-store,” Mirvish said. “But my most distinct memory is when we were shooting Omaha, the Movie in fall of 1993. We screened some of our dailies there. We were shooting 35mm film and the footage had to be sent to a lab in L.A. for processing and sent back to Omaha for us to watch. The Dundee was the best place to watch the footage once a week. Okay, so instead of ‘dailies.’ they were really ‘weeklies.

“Denny was great about letting us in there. The whole cast and crew came. It was a huge relief to see our footage.”

A few years earlier Moran set a precedent working with filmmakers when he allowed Sean Penn to screen dailies of the actor’s directorial debut, The Indian Runner (1991), which shot in and around Plattsmouth.

When local filmmaker Dana Altman, who produced Omaha, the Movie, needed a space to premiere his locally-made feature directorial debut, The Private Public, Moran agreed to play it at the theater. Altman protege Nik Fackler was a teenager making short films then with friend Tony Bonacci and the aspiring filmmakers got their shorts screened the same night. Fackler, who went on direct Oscar-winners Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn, recalls the opportunity fondly.

“Like total nerds, we made tickets in photoshop and sent them out to our friends and family, we rented suits and a limo, got dates. We were like, ‘Here’s our one chance we could probably get dates.’ But, yeah, we got our short films shown at Dundee.”

An earlier “graduate” of the Dundee, the late Gail Levin, went on to make acclaimed documentaries about film (Making the Misfits, James Dean: Sense Memory). She remembered seeing Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 as a teenager and what an impression that film and others by international artists made on her.

Jacobson appreciates the memories the Dundee holds for so many because it does for her, too. She said, “I grew up nearby, so we went to Dundee plenty. My dad tells the story that my very first movie was at Dundee. A 31-year old dad took his 18-month old daughter to The Empire Strikes Back, He said whenever Darth Vader came on, he would take me into the lobby. So, my first memory is not my own, it’s more my dad’s,” she said.

“In high school, I remember seeing Citizen Ruth there, which was huge, and Clerks – that was definitely a big one. I remember going to a full house and me and my girlfriends being the only girls opening night of Showgirls. We were just so interested because it had so much press and we really wanted to check it out.”

Memories just like these from movie lovers have been shared with Jacobson and her Film Streams staff ever since the nonprofit took over the Dundee.

 

 

Silver screen stirrings 

Two cinephiles who became famous filmmakers. Joan Micklin Silver (Hester Street, Crossing Delancey) and Alexander Payne (Election, About Schmidt, The Descendants, Nebraska), go way back with the Dundee.

Payne’s childhood home was within a couple blocks of the theater. It’s where he fell in love with 1970s cinema. Whenever back home from college in the ’80s, he’d return to whet his cinema appetite at the Dundee. Even after finding success with his filmmaking career in the ’90s and beyond, winning two Academy Awards and nominated for several others, he made the Dundee his go-to Omaha sanctuary for feeding his celluloid hunger.

Moran said, “Alexander would come in. His mom would come to movies here all the time, They’re both big Dundee fans .” Moran has a handwritten note by Payne thanking him for all he did in keeping the theater going.

In movie-movie fashion, Payne shot much of his first three feature films in Omaha, including scenes in and around various Dundee haunts, and his debut film Citizen Ruth starring Laura Dern played at the theatre.

“I’ve got a Citizen Ruth poster signed by Laura Dern

‘to my friends at the Dundee Theatre’ that I left in there for Film Streams,” said Moran, who collected other film memorabilia signed by visiting film artists.

“I had them framed in glass. It’s part of the theater and so I left it with the theater.”

Payne’s latest film Downsizing will make its national premiere at the new Dundee on December 22.

Given his personal history with the Dundee, he’s felt a sense of proprietorship in it. As a Film Streams board member, that ownership’s no longer symbolic but real.

“The reopening of the Dundee Theater is the realization of a dream – a dream we’ve had for a long time, first of all for preserving it in any form. That in the current incarnation of Omaha it belong to Film Streams is perfect. When the Morans closed the theater a few years ago, my hope was that if it was going to reopen that it become part of Film Streams, and now the dream is a reality and I couldn’t be more excited.”

His warm feelings run for its deep because as a second home the Dundee helped form his cinema sensibilities.

“I spent a huge amount of time in that theater watching movies.”

Payne also has a soft spot for vintage theaters. He’s supported the restored Midwest Theater in Scottsbluff and the World Theatre in Kearney. He speaks longingly of the time when neighborhood theaters dotted the urban landscape and he’s enthused about efforts to preserve and revive those theaters.

He said the Dundee, which once sat 470 people, stood out from some other cinemas.

“Few of these neighborhood theaters were as large as the Dundee. The Dundee had a more regal presence, so I’m extra glad it has survived.”

A generation before he cultivated his cinema passion there, Joan Micklin Silver attended movies at the Dundee. Her family, who owned Micklin Lumber, lived nearby and she saw standard post-World War II Hollywood fare growing up in the 1940s before moving East and becoming enamored with world cinema. By contrast, a decade later Gail Levin got turned onto world cinema at the Dundee. The difference in what the women saw at the Omaha theater is explained by the fact that during various eras and ownership regimes, it played very different slates of films.

Rich history

The Dundee’s shown motion pictures since the early 1930s, but it opened years before that, in 1925, as a vaudeville house. Harry Houdini once performed his escape artist act there. The locally owned Goldberg Circuit converted it from stage to film just as talking pictures became all the rage as a cheap escape from the hardships of the Great Depression.

The noted Omaha father-son architect team of John and Alan McDonald designed the historical revivalist venue that was Omaha’s then-westernmost theater. It opened to much fanfare in the Roaring Twenties. An ad touted it as a modern community asset to be proud of:

“The opening of the new Dundee Theater at 50th and Dodge is another example of the growth and development of this enterprising community. Only a personal visit can possibly give you an idea of the beauty of the lobby and interior of this beautiful showplace. All the latest developments in theater construction have been included in the building of the Dundee. All the new ideas for the comfort and entertainment of patrons will be found even in a greater extent than other houses … built just a few years ago.”

The ad went on to play up the beauty and comfort angle, referring to the “steel and concrete fireproof construction, finest ventilation and extra large upholstered seats with plenty of aisle space.”

The promotion continued: “Our policy is to bring to this theater the best pictures obtainable anywhere, and to present them as finely as possible.”

Finally, the ad played off the names of its McDonald designers. The elder John earlier designed the George A. Joslyn home, now known as Joslyn Castle, and First Unitarian Church of Omaha. The McDonalds later designed Joslyn Art Museum.

During the 1950s the Dundee was still part of the circuit owned by Ralph and Hermine Goldberg, who operated it as a first-run commercial house screening Hollywood studio releases. By 1958, Ralph Goldberg was dead and his widow sold the Dundee and State Theaters to the Cooper Foundation in Lincoln, Neb. That organization acquired the Dundee for its Cooper Theaters chain that later included the Indian Hills. Under Cooper management, the Dundee switched to showing art films from the U.S. and abroad.

“We have noted around the country a growing interest in the motion picture as an art form,” a Cooper rep told the Omaha World-Herald. “We hope to encourage this.”

Cashiers de Cinema critics in France led the film as art movement. Some became leading filmmakers (Jean Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut) themselves in the French New Wave. Great centers of international cinema and directors emerged in Italy (Federico Fellini, Luciano Visconti, Michelangelo Antonioni, Bernardo Bertolucci, Sergio Leone), Sweden (Ingmar Bergman), Great Britain (Tony Richardson, Joseph Losey), (Mexico-Spain (Luis Bunuel), Japan (Akira Kurosawa), India (Satyajit Ray) and behind the Iron Curtain – Roman Polanski in Poland and Milos Forman in Czechoslovakia.

Dundee’s artsy foray was interrupted when it exclusively booked The Sound of Music and ended up playing the mega-musical hit for more than two years on its solo-screen. The 20th Century Fox picture from Robert Wise began a reserved-seat, roadshow run in April 1965. In August 1966, Cooper Theaters reported that in its 69th week the film set records for the longest run and highest gross in Omaha. The previous records were held by South Pacific at the Cooper Theatre (64 weeks), grossing $430,000. Sound of Music passed those marks and added to them the next 49 weeks for a total of 118 weeks. It was the second longest run in the world, exceeded only in London, England, according to Art Thompson with the Cooper Foundation.

“The story around the Cooper Foundation was that a notation scribbled on the wall of the projection booth recorded the record run of The Sound of Music,” Thompson said.

The Omaha theater went on to host other long runs in its Cooper era. Funny Girl (1968) ran 55 weeks and Hello Dolly (1969) played 36 weeks.

Under Moran’s ownership, the Dundee enjoyed overwhelming receptions to very different kinds of movies. The South African comedy The Gods Must Be Crazy and the spare American drama Tender Mercies, featuring Robert Duvall in a Best Actor Oscar performance, each played several months.

After Sound of Music’s exceptional showing, the art emphasis resumed. When business waned, the theater was purchased by Omahans Edward Cohen and David Frank. They tried a family-friendly slate but eventually settled for second-run features. Nothing worked.

By the early 1980s, the Dundee struggled turning a dollar. It was already among the last single-screen commercial neighborhood theaters still in operation here. Virtually all the rest – in Benson, North Omaha, South Omaha – were closed and repurposed. All the downtown movie palaces were defunct or converted for new uses. Theaters moved west with the suburbs and independent locally owned and operated single-screen movie houses gave way to chains and multiplexes.

Cop who narrowly escaped death turned theater mogul

Then-Omaha police officer Denny Moran bought the Dundee in 1980 as a real estate investment. He was already buying and flipping houses in the area. His interest was the prime property the Dundee occupied, not the movie business. He already owned two adjacent lots and wanted to tie up all the land on that half-block. He initially planned to only keep the theater running until he found a national franchise, perhaps McDonald’s, to build on the site. But then a funny thing happened: He fell in love with it and the movie exhibition business.

Though Moran, an Omaha native, was a casual movie fan and frequented many local theaters growing up, he was a most unlikely candidate to carry on the Dundee’s legacy. For starters, he was not a film buff and he had zero prior experience in the film exhibition game.

“I didn’t know diddly squat about the movie business,” he told a reporter in 2012.

Besides, he was lucky to even be alive. A decade before buying the theater, he was a young cop in town when he intersected with a tragic incident that remains one of the darkest days in local law enforcement history.

On August 17, 1970, an anonymous 911 call of a woman being assaulted in a house at 2867 Ohio Street resulted in several police officers being dispatched. Moran and partner Larry Minard Sr. were first on the scene. They found two vacant houses. Minard and other officers entered the back of the 2867 dwelling while Moran investigated the other. Moran made his way outside when a tremendous explosion went off in the first house. Though protected by a tree, the concussive force sent him flying. Minard, a husband and father of five, died and several officers suffered injuries.

The call had been a ruse to lure the cops into a trap and when Minard opened the front door to exit the house a powerful homemade bomb detonated.

Two local Black Panthers were arrested, charged and convicted of the crime. They denied any involvement and never changed their stories. Controversy arose when documents revealed the federal government engaged in illegal measures to discredit and disrupt the Panthers. Many inconsistencies and irregularities were found in the prosecution of the suspects. Attempts to have the two men pardoned or their convictions overturned failed. One recently died in prison.

Asked about the incident, Moran confirmed the facts of that fateful night, his eyes watering at the memory of the trauma still with him. He became an undercover narcotics officer and a bodyguard-driver for the mayor.

Once he had the Dundee and celluloid got in his blood, he wanted to make it work as a going concern again.

“I said, ‘We’ve got to figure this out, this ain’t going to go.”

He finally hit upon returning to its recent past but this time going all in in making it an art cinema. The timing was right because the ’80s saw the end of the New Hollywood and the emergence of the Independent or Indie craze. Smart early bookings helped reestablish Dundee as a must-see cinema venue:

The Elephant Man

The Gods Must Be Crazy

Das Boot

Fitzcarraldo

Koyaanisqatsi

Tender Mercies

Local Hero

Then, Moran scored a real coup by getting Universal Studios’ rerelease of five classic Alfred Hitchcock films long unavailable and unseen:

Rear Window

Vertigo

The Man Who Knew Too Much

Rope

The Trouble with Harry

By the mid-’80s on, the Dundee was THE place to catch the latest Woody Allen film. By the ’90s. it was where you went to see works by breakout new talents such as Terry Gilliam (Brazil), the Coen Brothers (Miller’s Crossing), Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter) and Omaha’s own Alexander Payne.

The midnight movie screenings with their party-like atmosphere of fans reciting lines aloud, yelling and throwing popcorn, became a signature thing. The sound system was another attraction point.

“I was always a big sound guy,” Moran said. “We had the best sound of any theater in the area. It was clean sound, not loud sound. I was the first one in town with Dolby digital. It was expensive.”

Once, its high fidelity sound secured a coveted picture.

“We were talking about playing U2: Rattle and Hum and I had a guy come in from Paramount Pictures

because he wanted to check out the theater before he would give it to us. We screened Colors for him – the picture where Robert Duvall and Sean Penn play cops.

The guy’s sitting there when the digital sound comes in during an outdoor night scene and he starts complaining about ‘the freaking crickets chirping in back of the screen’ and I said, ‘They’re in the soundtrack.’ He goes, ‘What?’ ‘It’s in the soundtrack.’ He says, ‘You got the movie.’ After we started playing that movie, a local radio station said, ‘You can go see the movie, but if you want to hear that movie, go to the Dundee Theatre.”

Stephanie Kurtzuba, a busy film-TV actress (The Wolf of Wall Street) from Omaha, recalled seeing the movie “with a big group of friends and being enthralled by the experience.” “I think that was more about Bono than the theater,” she added, “but I sure was grateful Omaha had a movie house that showed things like concert films.”

 

Passing the torch

Dundee continued enjoying its art niche but once Film Streams came on the scene and on-demand services like Netflix, Hulu and Red Box appeared, margins got smaller. It became more grind-house than art house.

Moran said he and Film Streams enjoyed a friendly relationship.

“We always had a good rapport. Even when I was open here, I’d help them out with stuff, like spare parts when their projector broke down.”

“We had a pretty complementary relationship,” Rachel

Jacobson said. “It felt more collaborative than competitive.”

But industry changes took the fun out of running a theater for Moran. He enjoyed it when it was a more personal business. He learned the ropes from exhibition  veterans he met at theater owner conventions. He got to know distribution reps, too. But as small companies gave way to conglomerates, it became more corporate.

Moran held on as long as he could.

“We planned on keeping it,” he said.

But aft it got to be too much, he found the best deal for himself, the theater and the community.

“There’s a lot of people we need to thank for what’s happening there. Denny Moran. The Sherwood Foundation, which does so much for this city. Rachel (Jacobson) and her vision for Film Streams. All the donors,” Vic Gutman said. “We are fortunate to have so many visionaries and philanthropists who are helping to shape those visions and make them a reality.”

The Dundee’s back to projecting our collective dreams and nightmares, whimsies and follies, on the big screen.

Film buffs Sam and Mary Ann Walker can’t wait.

“Mary Ann and I practically live at Film Streams. And we live only a block and a half away from their new Dundee venue,” Sam Walker said. “I have had the thrill of seeing all my favorites from my college years, and finally a chance to see the great international films I never saw.”

Jacobson appreciates what good stewards the Morans were in keeping the theater viable for so long. She said she and her staff realize the “huge responsibility” Film Streams is taking on, but the fit seems so right.

“It’s seen so much film history and in that respect it’s so intricately tied to our mission and what we’re about. In one sense, it’s a big leap for us, and in another sense    something about it feels natural-next-step about it, too.”

She reassures people the theater will “continue to be the Dundee” but for a new age.

Hot Movie Takes – “Barbarosa”

October 26, 2017 1 comment

I am very much of the opinion that there’s nothing like a good Western. I like a great variety of Westerns, but I seem to be particularly drawn to the non-traditional iterations of the genre. The subject of this Hot movie Take post – the 1982 film “Barbarosa” directed by Fred Schepisi and starring Gary Busey and Willie Nelson – is a good example of a Western that on the surface owes only passing allegiance to genre conventions but otherwise does its own thing, exploring rich veins of metaphor and mythology, while remaining completely faithful to the genre at the same time.  I highly recommend it.

Hot Movie Takes – “Barbarosa”

@By Leo Adam Biga, Author of “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film”

It usually takes repeated viewings of a movie over a period of years before its images, moods and plot points get fully embedded in me. If I’ve only seen a movie once and years go by, then the less distinct my memories of it are. That’s true, with rare exceptions, even when it comes to good movies, The more time that passes, all I’m left with are general impressions. I mean, about all I know for certain is that I either really liked or disliked a movie. Such was the case with the off-beat 1982 Western “Barbarosa” starring Gary Busey and Willie Nelson, which I resolutely recall liking a lot but with the passage of time I had few vivid details of it left at my disposal. Until watching it last tonight in a superb upload on YouTube, it had been three decades since I last saw this picture directed by Fred Schepisi (“The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith,” “Iceman,” “Plenty,” “Roxanne,: “Six Degrees of Separation,” “Empire Falls”). I did have some residual artifacts of its look, its spirit, its lead actors’ performances and its use of lyrical realism and romanticism against a stark and harsh pre-Civil War Texas-Mexico backdrop. But I couldn’t have been much more specific than that other than to say it tells the story of a naive initiate rube, played by Busey, falling in with a sly, aging, red-headed bandit, Barbarosa, played by Nelson, whom generations of a Mexican family named Zavala have been sworn to kill. Oh, and that by the end, the young man carries on the Barbarosa persona.

The inspiration for the movie and the character of Barbarosa is Nelson’s album “The Red Headed Stranger.” Nelson asked his friend and fellow Texan, writer William Wittliff, to write a script based on the fictional outlaw figure in that album. Nelson chose well because Wittliff is one of the most talented screenwriters of the last half-century and some of his best work is in the Western genre. His credits include the mini-series “Lonesome Dove” and the film “Legends of the Fall.” He was also a writer on the feature “Honeysuckle Rose,” which Nelson co-starred in.

Now that I’ve seen “Barbarosa” again, I can confirm it is still the richly satisfying romp that registered with me the first time I saw it. And with it fresh in my head, I can be detailed about what makes it special. As Karl, Busey is the lone son of a farmer in Southern Texas. He’s accidentally killed his brother in law and is escaping the shame he feels and the revenge he’s sure will pursue him. In the Mexico badlands, he’s run out of provisions when he encounters Barbarosa. Within seconds of their meeting, Barbarosa is faced with a kill or be killed situation when a Zavala comes gunning for him, pistols blazing away. Karl sees for himself that he’s met up with a brave man very handy with his sidearm but it takes a few more incidents before he realizes he’s in the presence of a legend. Barbarosa, out of pity or loneliness or decency,  takes on Karl as his partner. There’s much the greenhorn has to learn from him. The two men, individually and together, must face down a series of threats and predicaments that are variously comic and tragic. Eventually, Karl learns that the trouble he’s trying to run way from is similar to the trouble that brings assassins after Barbarosa and that he, too, must confront the sins of his past.

The longer Karl rides with Barbarosa, the more he learns about the older man’s story and the deeper he gets into the outlaw life. He’s also forced to kill or be killed in the same way that Barbarosa is. We learn, along with Karl, that the Zavalas have been after Barbarosa for three decades and that Barbarosa has dispatched several of them over that time. And yet Barbarosa won’t brook Karl or anyone else saying anything bad about the Zavalas, It turns out they are his family by marriage. Long ago, he married Josefina, the daughter of the Zavala clan’s head, Don Braulio, played by Gilbert Roland. The source of the bad blood feud between the two men stems from Barbarosa’s wedding night reception, when during the drunken revelry Barbarosa accidentally killed one of Don Braulio’s sons. When Don Braulio exacted a nasty revenge that disfigured his son in law for life, Barbarosa repaid his father in law in kind. Their bond severed and Josefina forbidden to see her husband, Barbarosa is branded as the family’s sworn enemy. Year after year, Don Braulio has sent sons, grandsons and nephews from the family hacienda after Barbarosa and they’ve either come back disgraced – having failed to kill Barbarosa – or they’ve been killed themselves.  The scourge of Barbarosa, who refuses to leave the area and secretly sees his Josefina at the hacienda, has reached legendary, even mythical proportions. Songs recount his feats. The legend continues to grow, especially when Barbarosa and Karl escape the clutches of a Mexican bandit who shoots and apparently kills Barbarosa. When Barbarosa appears to have risen from the grave, the legend takes on added dimensions.

At one juncture, Barbarosa makes one of his brazen visits to see Josefina, who clearly still loves him, Karl follows him into the compound. To avoid being discovered, Karl takes refuge in a room that just happens to be the sleeping quarters of Barbarosa and Josefina’s very eligible daughter, Juanita, and the two  become very friendly. Juanita’s already heard the tales of Barbarosa’s “Gringo Child” sidekick.

I should note here that though the film upload is visually and sonically flawless, this print is a widely distributed version missing a key exchange near the very end that reveals Don Braulio has exploited the Barbarosa feud to retain control over the clan. He’s conflated the conflict into a holy mission, thereby demonizing Barbarosa, as a way to keep his family intact and him as unquestioned leader. He’s done this even though it’s meant wantonly sacrificing his own people for something that’s really only a personal vendetta for which he himself has as much to answer to as Barbarosa. Absent that information, the ending loses some of its clarity and punch.

But the ending still works because Karl’s had to face the same kind of blood oath mania and endured loss for his own indiscretion and he and Barbarosa have forged a deep friendship and love. By the time Barbarosa finally meets his match, Karl’s more than willing to take up the mantle of the legend. Besides, he still has Juanita to see.

Busey is perfect as Karl, who starts out a sweet, wide-eyed oaf and ends up a still just but much wizened and toughened rebel. Nelson pulls off the difficult task of being charismatic and enigmatic yet fully human. Roland brings just the right dignified bearing to his part.

The engaging script by Wittliff does a masterful job of balancing all these elements and keeping the story moving forward without ever getting bogged down. Schepisi’s fluid direction also maintains a good balance between the story’s fable-like qualities and gritty realism.

This kind of story that plays with notions of identity and reputation obviously appeals to Schepisi, who’s covered similar ground in films as seemingly disparate as “The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith,” “Iceman,” “Roxanne” and “Six Degrees of Separation.” The cinematography by Ian Baker, with whom Schepisi has often worked, is striking. The music by Bruce Smeaton, another frequent collaborator of Schepisi’s, is haunting. The film’s theme of truth versus legend in the West and which should prevail is famously dealt with in some other fine Westerns, such as “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” “The Shootist” and “Unforgiven.”

Some of my favorite Westerns are non-traditional ones and “Barbarosa” sure fills the bill. Others include “The Ballad of Cable Hogue” and “Bad Company.”

BTW, Busey’s always been one of my favorite actors and I’ve always particularly admired the work he did in the 1970s and 1980s, when he worked with some great filmmakers and held his own with some of Hollywood’s best actors. I consider his Best Actor Oscar-nominated performed performance in “The Buddy Holly Story” as one of the all-time great film portrayals, right up there with Sissy Spacek in “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” because  like her he not only gave a great dramatic performance, he also did his own singing (and playing). I would love to see again two of his better films from the ’70s: “Straight Time” starring Dustin Hoffman and “Big Wednesday” written and directed by John Milius. He also starred in an obscure screwball comedy that I really liked called “Foolin’ Around” and in an obscure and fascinating art film titled “Insignificance” directed by Nicolas Roeg.

On a personal note, I screened “Barbarosa” as part of one and perhaps two Western film festivals I organized way back in the 1980s that were presented as part of River City Roundup.

NOTE: Make sure to select the upload of “Barbarosa” with the following descriptor because it’s far superior to another out there:

Barbarosa – Movies 1982 – Fred Schepisi – Action Western Movies [ Fʟʟ H ]

Josefina Powers

5 months ago 3,440 views

There’s no telling how long it will last, so be quick about it and watch it while you can.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A1lzlLKNiyk

Opportunity and vision create distinct event spaces from Omaha’s old buildings

October 25, 2017 Leave a comment

Another of my new MorningSky feature stories. This one highlights some of the more interesting event spaces in town, including venues in historic buildings that have been repurposed or rediscovered for public gathering uses. Each one of these sites has a story to tell in its own right. Each is an example of opportunity and vision meeting to create distinct spaces.

Every old building contains a story and reimagined spaces are writing new ones. Developers and business owners are capitalizing on character and history to craft new event spaces from Omaha’s aging structures.

Omaha developers and property owners are finding ways to preserve their buildings’ rich history and unique ambiance by converting these spaces into hot new gathering spots for meetings, business functions, and fun parties.

These event spaces run the gamut from auditoriums holding thousands, to intimate venues offering a hint of grandeur. Some of the most fascinating Omaha properties boast a certain character, age and history that make the stand apart from the rest.

 

Starlight Chateau

From secluded monastery to enlivened gathering space

Take the home of Starlight Chateau. The 35,000 square foot brick building at 1410 North 29th Street was constructed in 1903 as a Poor Clare Sisters monastery. The cloistered order restricts contact with the outside world. The nuns rang a bell to alert neighbors they needed something. When the whole works – enclosed chapel, living quarters, kitchen, plus outdoor courtyard – was bought by the Good Shepherd Sisters in 1971, it remained a private space the next two decades.

That inaccessibility and shroud of mystery continued once Covenant Life Fellowship Church acquired the building as a worship center. After being off-limits for most of its life, the structure turned event space in 2012 when real estate broker and developer Dave Paladino (Landmark Group) bought it, renovated it and leased it to Starlight Chateau owner Cynthia Jones.

Now, a building and grounds long reserved as a quiet sanctuary for prayer, meditation, Mass, work and sacrifice, is the site of weddings, graduations and parties filled with dancing, drinking and the sounds of raised voices and popular music.

READ the rest of the story at–

https://morningsky.com/…/opportunity-and-vision-create-distinct-event- spaces-from-omahas-old

 

40th Street Theatre:

Store-workshop-theater emerges from neglect

John Hargiss has recovered and reactivated a nearly intact former vaudeville house turned movie theater he didn’t even know he possessed when he purchased a block of buildings along Hamilton Street in 2012. He’d relocated his Hargiss Stringed Instruments in the former Martin’s Bakery at 40th and Hamilton and discovered in an adjacent building the long closed, covered-over theater, circa 1905, preserved, as-if-in glass.

“It was well disguised for about 60 years – hidden behind walls, beams, tied up in the drop ceilings of about 10 feet,” he said.

Dump-truck loads of debris and detritus were hauled out of the buildings.

He and girlfriend Mary Thorsteinson applied sweat equity to reclaim the theater and an adjoining outdoor courtyard. The spaces now host weddings, parties, meetings. As a nod to its past and his own arts bent, he also leases the theater for concerts, plays, burlesque and magic shows.

“I’m a part of the arts, there’s no doubt about it,” he said.

“Being a craftsman, being a musician, it truly does complement one another.”

READ the rest of the story at–

https://morningsky.com/…/opportunity-and-vision-create-distinct-event- spaces-from-omahas-old

 

Gallery 1516: 

Former livery stable gets new life after $1.7M renovation

South Downtown’s home to the hottest new space in the burgeoning Leavenworth arts corridor in Gallery 1516. The 10,000 foot venue emerged from the bellows of an 1883 livery stable courtesy a $1.7 million renovation. Local and national architects collaborated to create what founder-director Patrick Drickey said internationally renown designer Cedric Hartman of Omaha described as “industrial elegance at its best.” High praise indeed for a space previously leased by Avis car rental before its hidden potential got released.

Drickey’s owned the building and two connecting ones for some time. He knew when he bought the 1516 it contained elaborate wood trusses installed in 1925 by International Harvester. The interlocking span of full growth Douglas firs was obscured by false ceilings added by subsequent owners. He knew exposing the trusses would create a stunning open space, He used part of it as his commercial photography studio. It wasn’t until Avis left this lifelong art collector went all in on  converting it into a gallery devoted to the exhibition of Nebraska artists. Because he’s also a music lover and the space just happens to have fine acoustics, he’s  made it a center for music, lectures, readings. The space can accommodate 200 guests. A retractable door opens to let the gallery meet the bustling street-scape. He and wife Karen reside in an attached loft apartment.

BVH Architects of Omaha, along with Jim Olson of  Olson Kundig in Seattle, headed the main design team, Paul Schlachter of Apollo Design Studio in Seattle fashioned the new facade. DeMarco Bros. Co of Omaha put in the new terrazzo floor. Ronco Construction of Omaha did the remaining build-out.

READ the rest of the story at–

https://morningsky.com/…/opportunity-and-vision-create-distinct-event- spaces-from-omahas-old

Urban planner Marty Shukert takes long view of Omaha development

October 24, 2017 Leave a comment

My latest MorningSky feature story picks the brain of veteran Omaha urban planner Marty Shukert, who takes a long view of Omaha Development.

 

Urban planner Marty Shukert takes long view of Omaha development

©by Leo Adam Biga

MorningSky Omaha

 

Marty Shukert has seen his hometown grow from his expert urban planning designer’s perspective.

The 70-something former Omaha City Planning director, now a principal at RDG Planning & Design, grew up in Benson. That community, like much of Omaha, has metamorphosed in his lifetime.

Shukert, an Omaha By Design consultant, is impressed by the local construction boom whose infill and renovation is revitalizing the urban core.

When he began his professional career in the early 1970s, Omaha was much smaller. The westernmost city reaches stopped at the Westroads. Boys Town was in the country. Downtown was dying, The Old Market was a fledgling experiment. By the ’80s. neighborhood business districts were struggling.

In and out of city employ, he’s seen Omaha make horrendous mistakes (North Freeway) and cultivate unqualified successes (Old Market). He witnessed $2 billion in riverfront and downtown redevelopment. He saw an abandoned tract of prime land repurposed as Aksarben Village and the entire Midtown reactivated. After years of decline, he saw South Omaha remake its old industrial and business districts. After years of neglect, he’s seeing North Omaha revitalized.

His old stomping grounds, Benson, is one of several historic named neighborhoods enjoying a renaissance after going stagnant or suffering reversals.

After decades of suburban sprawl, Omaha’s recast its gaze inward. Shukert is taken aback by the multi-billion dollar resurgence transforming Old Omaha.

“I don’t think there’s any question about” the dynamic development space Omaha’s in, he said.

Just the housing slice alone of this big pie is impressive.

“The number of in-city or central city housing settings being built is dramatic,” Shukert said. “We’re building that density.”

After years wondering why developers weren’t doing mixed-use commercial-residential projects in the urban core, they’ve become plentiful, including the Greenhouse where RDG offices, and the Tip-Top.

“The other thing that’s interesting to see is the flowering of neighborhood business districts. When you look at something like Vinton Street or South Omaha or Benson or Dundee or Old Town Elkhorn or Florence or the 13th Street Corridor or a number of other places, they’ve really become interesting little innovation centers.

“There’s now the Maker neighborhood developing.”

READ the rest of the story at–

https://morningsky.com/…/urban-planner-marty-shukert-takes-long-view-of- omaha-development

Pot Liquor Love: Anthony Kueper Dedicated to Creating Memories at Dolce

October 23, 2017 Leave a comment

The Omaha fine dining scene features so many top chefs doing their versions of elevated American comfort that it’s not only hard keeping up but keeping them straight as well. One chef-owner doing his best to stand out from the pack is Anthony Kueper at Dolce in northwest Omaha. Here is my profile of him in the Fall 2017 issue of Food & Spirits Magazine.

 

Anthony Kueper Dedicated to Creating Memories at Dolce

Anthony Kueper Dedicated to Creating Memories at Dolce

In four-and-a-half years, Anthony Kueper has gone from sous chef to executive chef to chef-owner at fine dining Dolce in northwest Omaha.

Dolce is another of the city’s new crafted American food spots, but unlike the young, fresh-from-culinary-school phenoms running some of those other kitchens. Kueper is a 43 year-old veteran of the food wars.

From savoring fresh mussels in France at age six to taking cooking classes at 12 to preparing meals at home for his younger siblings and for friends, his life as a gastronome started early.

Born into a military family, he moved with his father’s U.S. Air Force assignments and everywhere he went he indulged in the indigenous food culture: street frites in Holland, Tex-Mex in the American southwest and paellas in the Philippines.

His father twice got posted to Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue and it was that second, more permanent posting that saw Kueper finish school here and get his first professional training.

“I worked atJulio’sandJones Street Brewery. It was good food but it was basic stuff.”

Then there was fortuitous stint atThe Bistroin theOld Market.

“Two chefs there influenced me a little bit and actually got me to go to culinary school –Gene Cammarota and Kenneth Hughes,” said Kueper.

Being exposed to their high end techniques, he said, “gave me the idea there was more to just cooking.”

Along the way he bumped into future notables, includingPaul Kulik.

Kueper left Omaha for culinary school in Kansas City, Missouri in the early ’90s, but as with any chef it’s what came after that most shaped his aesthetic.

“I got a piece of paper from culinary school – the rest of it was learned in kitchens and from the people I rubbed elbows with and surrounded myself with. It’s who you choose to follow that’s important.”

He was in his early 20s when he landed a chef gig at the Ritz Carlton on the Plaza in K.C.

“My first chef position at the Ritz Carlton hit me hard. I almost didn’t recover. I was very talented at an early age. I had a lot of hype put behind me. I had a lot of powerful people around me.”

Under the Ritz Carlton brand he worked in Atlanta for the Olympics and in San Francisco opening a new venue. Then he felt it was time to do something else.

“When I left the Ritz Carlton and went to Colorado to try and do something on my own, it was a big challenge. It wasn’t a real niche for fine dining, so I ended up doing a lot of bar and grills – fun food – and tried to throw some of my technique into that. There’s only so much you can do.”

Colorado is where he grew personally and professionally and where he met his wife, Daniela. They have three children together.

“Yeah, I met a girl from Germany and she put hooks in my heart.”

After she returned to Germany, he sold most of his belongings and joined her there.

“I left my restaurant in Aspen and lived in Hamburg for two years.”

He joked that if it gets out he’s really a romantic at heart, he won’t be taken seriously as “a tyrant in the kitchen.” The couple returned to the States to start a family. Colorado became their home base.

He worked for some real characters there, including an eccentric Frenchman. Then there was ‘The Dude’ at a place called Toscanini. That led to Kueper joining VIN 48 in Avon. He was there from the end of 2008 to the beginning of 2012

“It was a good experience.”

Meanwhile, Daniela missed the flavors of home.

Fortunately, when they lived in Hamburg he schooled himself on the local cuisine.

“So she wouldn’t be homesick I learned how to cook German food. I learned how to make schnitzel at a two star Michelin restaurant.”

After all his travels, Kueper finally came back to Omaha. The decision to come here was all about family. One of his boys had respiratory issues in the high altitude of Colorado and Kueper wanted to be closer to his parents. But settling here was not the ultimate plan.

“I planned on spending a little time in Omaha before finding something in Chicago, Minneapolis or Kansas City. We weren’t going to put our roots down in Omaha.”

Besides, it was a rough go the first couple years back.

“It was difficult because I’m an older chef with a pedigreed resume. I’m not a 27-year-old kid that ran half the kitchens in town.”

Star chefs likeTim NicholsonatThe Boiler Roomweren’t even old enough to drink when he left here. Things had definitely changed.

To keep his fine dining skills honed he worked atV. Mertzfor nine months, but making $11 an hour wasn’t cutting it to support a family. That gig though led to Dolce.

“The V. Mertz name alone kicked open doors for me with the resume I had.”

Dolce’s original owner,Gina Sterns, discovered him there and brought him on board in 2013. He admired how she took what began as a pastry shop to a fine dining establishment. Health issues forced her to take a step back. In 2014 Lincoln restauranteursJason Kuhr and Tyler Mohr purchased it.

“We helped elevate this space to what it is because, I mean, it’s in a strip mall. You don’t know what to expect from the outside. It does surprise a lot of people that they can find this little gem of a place there. We’ve done a lot to improve the ambience. Jason had the financial strength to do the things that would have taken me a lot longer to do in terms of remodeling, revisiting and reinvigorating the space. My food and what he did made what Dolce’s standing on now.”

Meanwhle, Kueper helped the Mohrs openOllie and Hobbes in Omaha but found himself overextended.

“I wasn’t happy. I was working way too much, even Sundays, not seeing my family. I was pulling down a lot of money, but it wasn’t worth it.”

That’s when he decided to focus his energies on one venue and worked out the purchase of Dolce. He actually tried before, when Sterns still owned it, but he and a partner didn’t have the capital.

He had tried the chef-owner hat on in Colorado.

“It was an exciting thing to open a new restaurant, but it turned out to be a bad partnership, so I kind of wash it from my memory.”

This time around he’s flying solo and loving being his own boss. He’s taking the fresh-local upmarket comfort food thing to the next level.

“The whole local food movement – trying to get all your products from within a 120-mile radius – is the greenest way to go about it. I don’t want to be buying my pigs from New York. This is where food comes from. This is a huge farming community.

“Where it matters, we do buy organic – in our meat, in our dairy. About 50 percent of our produce is organic.”

If Kueper’s learned anything, he said, it’s “that people have to love what you do and how you do it,” adding, “That at the end of the day is what matters.”

“The people that come here like our food, they like what we’re doing with the food, they like our message.”

He’s all about providing an experience that touches deep reservoirs.

“Food is a memory. The bread pudding we do is based off my dad’s mother’s recipe. My dad says it’s the closest rendition he’s ever had, it’s just different. The thing that’s different is she saved up all the scrap bread from the bread she used to make. I’m using a different style bread. My dad generally tears through his food, but when he hits that bread pudding, he slows down, so he can savor everything.”

True to its comfort concept, Dolce keeps things simple.

“If you look at our menu, they’re simple things that people can identify with.”

But with that fine dining twist.

“We serve kale with our steak and I swear to God we go through more kale. And we’re not doing the kale chips or salads or anything like that, we actually use it as a good vegetable on our proteins and people are like, ‘You made me eat kale – and it was wonderful.’

“For our roast chicken we start with good local chickens that we brine in-house. A seven herb emulsion goes on it – it’s oregano, chives, parsley, thyme, rosemary, spinach and we add some roasted garlic. A lot of people can’t put their finger on it because it’s such a blend. We make a tomato marmalade by cooking tomatoes down with a little bit of sherry vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper. We serve the dish with simple gnocchi and broccolini.”

Kueper draws inspiration from the past.

“I’m really a traditionalist when it comes to the history of things. I cook with historical background. I try to do it the way it was done years ago before there were microwaves and preservatives. We dry-age some of our own meats here. I’d like to do more, but we don’t have the facility space.”

The day this reporter visited, a Mangalista hybrid hog got delivered. It’s an old breed valued for its high fat content that keeps the meat succulent when roasted.

Many myths attend fine dining that Kueper’s eager to overturn.

“People think it’s unhealthy – it’s not. We don’t use tons of butter. We use herbs salt, acidity, just the right amount of balance in things.”

Flavors are carefully curated.

“We don’t try to overpower flavors. There might be one thing that’s going to knock your socks off but then        everything else is going to be subdued.”

Today’s Omaha food scene is quite different than the one he left two decades ago.

“Omaha has come a long way. The cooks and the kitchens in Omaha are there. The diners still need to be educated. You constantly have people tell you, ‘You know what you should do?’ Like put a crab cake on a salad. It’s very classic, it’s very nice. I’m not saying that’s not a good idea, but it’s just not my expression. It’s not the type of food I look to put forward.

“I like to push people out of their comfort zone just a little. It’s all driven by technique. And if I can win you over on one of those things, I will build a customer for life. It’s kind of cool that way. I have people that don’t like duck who love the duck that we do. I’ve had people tell me they hate salmon but ours was the best salmon they ever had.”

His Margarita Mussels is another example.

“That’s one of my signature dishes. I think I’m bringing it back this fall. The tequila is added to a citrus broth. It hits all the right notes.”

He said its creation came about “from just being playful.”

Experimenting with ingredients is a lifelong process.

“You’re never done learning. I’ll work with an ingredient until I think I’ve figured it out. I will try stuff and really shoot from the hip.”

A couple years ago he taught himself to make ramen noodles from scratch. “They seem so simple and basic, but when done right,” he said, they’re oh so delicious.

More recently, he concocted a translucent omelet made from just egg yolks.

Baking is something he’s mastered in recent years.

“I wasn’t much of a baker, but now I’ve become quite an advanced baker. I’ve learned a lot teaching myself.

“It’s all time and temperature. It’s just basic chemistry and all the laws can be changed in different applications to make things happen. It’s just how you approach it and if you’re willing to take a chance. I have a lot of failures, but I have a lot of successes, too. I don’t serve my failures – I eat them.”

Two things Dolce’s known for – ‘Taste of the Moment’ and ‘Date Night’ – continue. Taste of the Moment specials change every day according to his mood and shopping finds. On a late August visit it was herb goat cheese ravioli with red pepper pasta.

“We roast off sweet red peppers, remove the skin, and blend them up with the eggs. It’s served with smoked chicken broth with Shiitake mushrooms, spinach and truffle oil.”

More than ever, he can follow inspirations as they occur.

“Now that I’m not working for somebody else, I can do it my way. I don’t have to ask somebody if it’s okay to do a ‘weird’ dish. I’m doing my artichoke creme brulee this fall. It’s something I learned how to make in Germany. It’s artichoke and parmesan in a creme brulee, so it’s savory. It’s served with asparagus wrapped in our house-made prosciutto.”

Freedom to do your own thing is nice, but not everyone’s going to like everything you do. His five-course tasting menu usually has one dish that challenges diners. When he first took over as chef at Dolce four years ago, a local reviewer openly questioned his execution on some dishes. He took exception with the digs though he acknowledges he wasn’t at his best then.

“That was a long time ago. At the time, I had a young crew. I was just getting established here under new ownership. I was trying to feel them out. I wasn’t cooking to my potential – not like what we’re doing now. It was good food, but I wasn’t putting it all out there. I was sparing some of myself inside.”

The vagaries and demands of his field can drain all but the heartiest souls.

“As a chef you can throw yourself out there and it’ll end up burning you up. It’s hard to keep stable mental health in this industry, it really is.”

With all his experience, he perhaps feels less compelled to prove himself and more inclined to bask in the glow of doing what he loves. It’s why on a recent vacation to his old stomping grounds in Colorado he made a point of catching up with buddies from VIN 48 so they could cook together again.

Before leaving for the trip, he said, “I haven’t seen them in five years. I’m doing it because I miss them. Two of the guys I trained are running the place.”

The trip served as a reminder to keep it simple, stupid.

“I’ve cooked some of the best meals with no running water. I was an avid backpacker and camper. I had tortillas, Fantastic Foods hummus (a dehydrated product) and fresh caught trout that I smoked over a live fire using a little orange juice and soy sauce.”

Food is what you make of it and Kueper’s all about giving diners a memorable experience in his warm-toned, intimately-scaled Dolce, where maybe you’ll meet your new best friends while dining.

“There are these two couples that come in to dine together at least once a month. They met each other here. Their love and passion was food and our restaurant brought them together, and I think that’s cool.”

How dolce (sweet) too.

Located at 12317 West Maple Road. Open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m, and for dinner Monday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to close.

For menu and reservations, vista http://www.dolceomaha.org, or call 402-964-2122.

 

Ortega follows path serving more students in OPS

October 22, 2017 1 comment

To be a public schools advocate, one doesn’t have to be a public education institution graduate. Nor does one need to be a professional public schools educator or administrator, But in Rony Ortega’s case, he checks yes to all three and he feels that background, plus a strong work ethic and desire to serve students, gives him the right experience for his new post as a district executive director in the Omaha Public Schools. He supervises and guides principals at 16 schools and he loves the opportunity of impacting more students than he ever could as a classroom teacher, counselor, assistant principal and principal. He also feels his own story of educational attainment (two master’s degreees and a doctorate) and career acheivement (a senior administrative position by his late 30s) despite a rough start in school and coming from a working-class family whose parents had little formal education is a testament to how far public education can carry someone if they work hard enough and want it bad enough. Read my profile of Rony Ortega in El Perico.

 

 

Ortega follows path serving more students in OPS

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in El Perico newspaper

Rony Ortega has gone far in his 15-year career as an

educator. He worked in suburban school districts in Elkhorn and Papillion before recruited to the Omaha Pubic Schools by former OPS staffer and veteran South Omaha community activist, Jim Ramirez.

Ortega. who’s married with three daughters, all of whom attend OPS, has moved from classroom teacher and high school counselor to assistant principal at South High to principal of Buffett Middle School. Earlier this year, he was hired as a district executive director tasked with supporting and supervising principals of 16 schools.

The Southern California native traces his educational and professional achievement to his family’s move to Nebraska. Negative experiences in Los Angles public schools in the 1980s-1990s – gang threats, no running water, rampant dropouts – fueled his desire to be a positive change agent in education. In Schuyler, where his immigrant parents worked the packing plants, he was introduced to new possibilities.

“I’m thankful my parents had the courage to move us out of a bad environment. Really, it wasn’t until I got here I met some key people that really changed the trajectory of my life. I met the middle class family I never knew growing up. They really took me under their wing. We had conversations at their dinner table about college-careers – all those conversations that happen in middle class homes that never happened in my home until I met that family.

“That was really transformational for me because it wasn’t until then I realized my future could be different and I didn’t have to work at a meatpacking plant and live in poverty. I really credit that with putting me on a different path.”

He began his higher education pursuits at Central Community College (CCC) in Columbus.

“I went there because, honestly, it was my only option. I was not the smartest or sharpest kid coming out of high school. Just last year, I was given the outstanding alumnus award and was their commencement speaker. I was humbled. Public speaking is not something I really enjoy, but I did it because if I could influence somebody in that crowd to continue their education, it was worth it. And I owed it to the college. That was the beginning of my new life essentially.”

He noted that, just as at his old school in Schuyler, CCC-Columbus is now a Hispanic-serving institution where before Latinos were a rarity. His message to students: education improves your social mobility.

“No one can take away your education regardless of who you are, where you go, what you do.”

He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and went on to earn two master’s and a doctorate at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

“I’m really the first in my family to have more of an educational professional background,” Ortega said, “I don’t think my parents quite yet grasp what I do for a living or what all my education means, so there’s some of that struggle where you’re kind of living in two worlds.”

He expects to keep advancing as an administrator.

“I have a lot of drive in me, I have a lot of desire to keep learning. I do know I want to keep impacting more and more kids and to have even a broader reach, and that is something that will drive my goals going forward.

“It’s very gratifying to see your influence and the impact you make on other people. There’s no better feeling than that.”

He’s still figuring out what it means to be an executive director over 16 principals and schools.

“For now, I’m focusing on building relationships with my principals, getting to know their schools, their challenges, observing what’s happening. So right now I’m just doing a lot of leading through learning. It’s quite the challenge with not only the schools being elementary, middle and high schools but being all over town. Every school has challenges and opportunities – they just look different. I’m trying to learn them.

“When I was a principal, I had teachers who needed me more than others. I’m learning the same thing is true with principals – some need you more because they’re new to the position or perhaps are in schools that have a few more challenges.”

Having done the job himself, he knows principals have a complex, often lonely responsibility. That’s where he comes in as support-coach-guide.

“We’re expecting principals to be instructional leaders but principals have a litany of other things to also do. Our theory of action is if we develop our principals’ capacity, they will in turn develop teachers’ capacity and then student outcomes will improve.”

He knows the difference a helping hand can make.

“No matter where I’ve been, there’s always been at least one person instrumental in influencing me. The research shows all it takes is one person to be in somebody’s corner to help them, and there’ve been people who’ve seen value in me and really invested in me.”

His educational career, he said, “is my way of giving back and paying it forward.”

“It’s so gratifying to wake up every day knowing you’re doing it for those reasons. That’s really powerful stuff.”

He purposely left the burbs for more diverse OPS.

“I kept thinking I’ve got to meet my heart. I wanted to do more to impact kids probably more like me.”

He’s proud that a district serving a large immigrant and refugee population is seeing student achievement gains and graduation increases, with more grads continuing education beyond high school.

As he reminds students, if he could do it, they can, too.

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