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festival

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Rob Carraher
CONTRIBUTOR

Julia Docournau’s feature debut “Raw” has been the subject of film festival controversy despite being received as highly regarded cinema. The horror genre is known for making those with the strongest of stomachs a bit squeamish, but Docournau’s “Raw” takes the gore to a surprisingly new level.

It’s not that such gore hasn’t graced theaters before, but the way that Docournau presents it, allowing for eyes to feast on all its cannibalistic glory. But what separates “Raw” from past cannibal flicks is its desire to place storytelling at the forefront rather than relying simply on shocking images but nothing of substance.

“Raw” opens by introducing Justine (Garance Marillier), a vegetarian teen entering her first year of veterinarian school. The college lifestyle is a dramatic change for Justine as she becomes the target of “rookie” hazing. Her older sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf), gladly takes part in breaking Justine into her new environment.

When Alexia pressures Justine into eating a rabbit liver as part of the hazing festivities, Justine’s life begins to change. The taste of liver awakens an overbearing satiation to consume even more meat–including human flesh. Justine juggles the responsibilities of being a college student, or lack thereof, with her new-found cravings.

Docournau not only directed but also wrote “Raw.” Her twist on the classic coming of age story and cannibal story creates a familiar yet original approach to the horror genre. Her craft is seasoned to the point where it seems almost impossible to believe this is her first feature film. Very few directors manage to capture the terror of the genre and still land on their feet by the film’s end. Docournau does just that. This is a sign of an aware filmmaker.

One of the high points of “Raw” is the way it handles the theme of lust. In a handful of scenes, Marillier brilliantly personifies lustful emotion. In the context of the film, lustful incorporates more than just sexual desire. In that sense, these scenes become ever more uncomfortable and awkward for viewers, but there is an allure that more than imprisons the mind.

The juxtaposition of this woman-coming out of her shell on a college campus and the engrossing, unexplainable realization of being a cannibal is a work of genius, and a creative way to deliver this sort of content. Neither situation could be very comfortable for the individu-al experiencing such extreme life changes, but once again Marillier brings her very best to the role. Rumpf’s more relaxed portrayal as Alexia helps to contrast the two sisters, and drives the urgency for Justine to understand her new life.

There is certainly an undercurrent being displayed about feminism in Docournau’s construction of “Raw.” As the film comes to a close, it becomes very apparent of such message. It’s not a “in your face” sort of message, and that is what makes it all the more effective. Docournau’s characters are female and strong, and they aren’t trying to be something they are not. It is very difficult to walk away and not be enamored with Justine and Alexia as rich characters in a thrilling tale, much to the credit of Docournau’s writing melding perfectly with Marillier and Rumpf’s performances.

As excellent as the storytelling and performances are in “Raw,” it would be a mistake to not talk about the gore. There are some simply stunning exhibits of the gnarly, bloody aftermath of cannibalized events. If an appetite was present prior to the film, it certainly goes missing before exiting the theater. Few films go as far as “Raw” does, and the design element is extraordinary. It makes one wonder if these visuals could possibly be fake, they look so real. Mix this with an intense and haunting soundtrack, and Docournau has constructed the complexities of the cannibal-horror genre that are often missing from many other films.

The gore may bring audiences to the theater, but Docournau’s craft will leave them witnesses of something special. “Raw” will likely finish as the year’s best horror film, and deservedly so. For a bunch of unknowns to come onto the cinema scene with such strong first effort is quite rare. Whether a fan of horror films, foreign films, or films with exquisite sense of construction and delivery, “Raw” will surely please.

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Photo Courtesy of pinterest.com
Photo Courtesy of pinterest.com

Marissa Wiese
CONTRIBUTOR

Thanksgiving day is the kick-off for the holiday season at the Gene Leahy Mall. The Holiday Lights Festival on Nov 24 starts there by decorating the mall area in beautiful white lights.

Mayor Jean Stothert is going to lead the countdown to the Thanksgiving Lighting Ceremony at 6 p.m. that Thursday to make Downtown glow.

The tradition started seventeen years ago with the Millennial Lights in 1999 and is sponsored by Downtown Omaha Inc. Foundation as one of their biggest Old Market attractions of the year. The lights will dazzle from 5 p.m. until 1 a.m. every evening until Jan 2 and bring in around 100,000 visitors throughout the holiday months.

Nothing matches up to the atmosphere of the actual lighting ceremony, though. This will be the second Holiday of Lights Festival for organizer Christine Dunn, and she describes how the experience is still magical for Omaha residents who have seen the ceremony before.

“The anticipation of the lights,” Dunn said, “is still somehow very exciting every year.”

It jump starts the holidays in a glimmer of lights and music at the Gene Leahy Mall. A small concert before the Thanksgiving Lighting Ceremony will be performed by the Bells and Whistles followed by Mayor Stothert’s countdown. Following the countdown, many of the shops, restaurants and pubs will be open with decorations of their own for festival goers to wander around and enjoy.

Walking around the area to enjoy the hundreds of thousands of lights during the festival is “the best opportunity to enjoy the atmosphere,” according to Dunn.

There will also be a horse drawn carriage that evening as well as the free Making Spirits Bright Holiday Concert at 7 p.m. The concert will feature the Nebraska Wind Symphony and opera vocalist Drew Duncan. This is Duncan’s first performance for the Thanksgiving Lighting Ceremony due to bad weather last festival. The 2015 ceremony was postponed from Thanksgiving and the concert had to be cancelled.

Duncan is rescheduled to appear this Thanksgiving at the concert which will also feature a sing along. The visitors who go to walk the streets and admire the lights “can warm up at the concert,” says Dunn.

The Lighting Ceremony is a great addition to any family Thanksgiving holiday.

According to Dunn, “you can go to the lighting ceremony, go to the concert, go get a late dinner if you’re not already stuffed.”

For those who can’t take time from their busy Thanksgiving plans, there’s always the North and South Omaha Holiday lights later in the season. The Holiday of Lights Festival has held these events for the past 5 years thanks to the Sherwood Foundation. They will take place this year on Dec 3.

Sounds of the Season will also ensure that delightful holiday music can be heard every Saturday from Nov 26 through Dec 17 at the Gene Leahy Mall or 11th & Howard in the Old Market by featuring local choir groups.

Omaha residents can celebrate the holiday season with the ConAgra Foods Ice Rink, or the Wells Fargo Family Festival, or simply enjoy the holiday spirit Omaha has to offer.

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Jeff Turner
ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR

I’ve only been to Maha once in 2013, The Flaming Lips were headlining. It was a pretty cool setup, there were two different stages in Stinson Park, you could get right up front there, and get that nice view, or you could kick back in a lawn chair with a drink and just relax. You did either, and you’d hear just fine. It’s a cool festival, and it doesn’t feel small or inconsequential. Maha will be coming up this year, and if you have some money to burn you might be interested in some of who’s playing:

Passion Pit – Passion Pit is an indielectronica band formed in Cambridge, Mass. in 2007. The music from their most recent album, “Kindred”, has a propulsive energy to it, like something that you’d put into your stereo in the summer. They’re fun and they’re bouncy, and a sure-fire crowd-pleaser.

Grimes – Claire Elise Boucher is a solo act who started in 2010 under the name Grimes. Her genre of choice is classified as “art pop”, her variation of which mixes her haunting voice with a more dance music kind of sound. For her most recent album, “Art Angels”, she was described as a “female pop auteur.” A worthy addition to the Maha canon.

Vince Staples – Vince Staples is a Long Beach rapper who is one-third of the group Cutthroat Boyz. He left gangbanging to become a rapper, and has worked with Cutthroat Boyz alongside several members of Odd Future, not least of all Earl Sweatshirt. His most recent album, “Summertime ’06” has seen him praised as an excellent communicator with a lot on his mind.

The Joy Formidable – The Joy Formidable are an English alternative rock formed in Wales in 2007.Their sound is predominately a throwback to the alt. rock of the mid 90’s. They’re often compared to Billy Corgan and the sound of The Smashing Pumpkins, so if that’s your bag, they’ll be there too.

Matthew Sweet – Matthew Sweet is a rock singer who started out in the music scene in Athens, GA in the 80’s. He found commercial success in the 90’s, and even had a few hits such as “Sick of Myself” in ’95, and “Girlfriend” in ’91. His sound is similar to say, Elliot Smith. Very easy sounding rock ballads, often about lost loves. He was actually born and raised in Lincoln, Nebraska! He drops off the radar after 2000, so maybe he came out to play for his people. Come out and support one of your own!

Jay Farrar Trio – Jay Farrar founded Son Volt after Uncle Tupelo (which he started with Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy) broke up, offering a distinct alt-country sound. Their big hit was Trace, which Farrar says was about getting to a more simplistic sound for the record. He is operating as a single act these days. He is a pioneer of alt-country and a worthy act to have on your bill.

Diarrhea Planet – Diarrhea Planet are an American punk band from Nashville, Tennessee, formed in 2009. They have a very hard sound, and are not easy to track down on the internet. They are very similar to OFF! If you have listened to them.

The Maha Music Festival is a terrific experience that you will treasure for years. It is yet another element of Omaha that is utterly outstanding yet is largely glossed over.

Photo Courtesy of Mariel Richter
Photo Courtesy of Mariel Richter

Mariel Richter
CONTRIBUTOR

The University of Nebraska at Omaha recently opened a special exhibit, Inspired by Shakespeare’s Work: The 30th Anniversary of Nebraska Shakespeare, in the Criss Library Archives and Special Collections area.

The exhibit, which will be on display through Aug. 12, gives insight into the planning, educating, and entertaining performed by the Nebraska Shakespeare group. The nonprofit got its start in 1986 and performed its first Shakespeare on the Green the following year.

Archives and Special Collections Director Amy Schindler explained that the Nebraska Shakespeare exhibit includes programs, photos, costume and set designs, among other memorabilia. Documents from Nebraska Shakespeare operations and productions teams are also on display.

“We hope students will learn a bit about the long and varied history of Omaha cultural institution Nebraska Shakespeare, and especially about Shakespeare on the Green, which is literally right outside the library’s doors every summer,” Schindler said.

Shindler hopes spectators will gain an appreciation for the diverse stories, people, and information from the records available in the exhibit.

Nebraska Shakespeare Festival, Inc. has more than 200 volunteers and local collaborators, such as the City of Omaha, Creighton University and UNO, that help produce annual productions.

The UNO exhibit coincides with the 400 year commemoration of William Shakespeare, making the exhibit even more appropriate as Omahans crowd the UNO campus to see the new Shakespeare on the Green performances.

This exhibit does not show the extent of the full archived collection, as it highlights primary pieces of the records. Researchers can find additional archived information in the UNO online database or by contacting Criss Library Archives and Special Collections.

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Photo Courtesy of CNN.com
Photo Courtesy of CNN.com

Ciara Watson
CONTRIBUTOR

This week, the University of Nebraska at Omaha will be celebrating the 14th Annual Malcolm X Festival. In connection with the black studies Department and the Malcolm X Foundation located at 3448 Evans Street, the 14th Annual Malcolm X Festival will include events and informational discussions about the African American experience. The three-day celebration is intended to be an inspirational event for the whole family.

“This is opportunity to share our history of culture, and our experience with those not of the African diaspora,” said Dr. Sharif Liwaru, president of the Malcolm X Foundation in Omaha.

Liwaru said the festival is important because black heritage and stories are unique.

“History repeats itself, and our stories of the African diaspora continues here in America,” Liwaru said. “These stories will continue to be an example of how we are to live now and in the future.”

The festival begins on Tuesday April 5 with a play at the Malcolm X Center entitled “The Meeting.” The play is expected to display authentic songs and dances in combination with spoken word. Following the play will be a short discourse by UNO Black Studies professor Dr. Nikitah Imani entitled “Malcolm X: A Native Son’s Long Invisible Shadow.”

“This is an opportunity to reflect to the African American youth, and reflect to the masses, the history so that we have a window for planning what’s next,” Liwaru said. “The topics that are presented at the academic presentations need to continue to reflect on the current issues that are important to the audience that it serves.”

On Wednesday April 6, there will be a total of eight academic presentations held at the Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center. The Black Lives Matter movement will be the theme for this year’s lectures.

Many of the presentations will be delivered by instructors from the UNO black studies Department. The presentation topics will range from Black Lives Matter, to HIV/ AIDS, and Black Women’s Lives Matter. The last presentation will begin at 5 p.m. with Omowale Akintunde giving a presentation entitled Black Lives Matter & Police Brutality.

Although these presentations are geared toward the Black Lives Matter movements and the Black community, they are also here to create an open dialogue of what it means be a minority in America.

“The attendees must come in with an intention to learn, and they must also have a goal mindset,” Liwaru said.

On Thursday April 7, the festival will end with an invite-only luncheon at the Thompson Alumni Center. The luncheon is expected to have many of the speakers from the academic presentations.

“The conversation that’s happening now, is that we as a people matter. By having a conference that’s reflective in which examines different ways that we matter, helps to keep our issues relevant to today’s youth,” Liwaru said.

Editor reminisces about summer music festival

Phillip Brown

This past summer, I had the opportunity to represent the newspaper at Pitchfork Music Festival, a three-day celebration of all things indie music. Taking place in Chicago, the Festival is probably the biggest event of its kind in our little corner of the world, Midwestern America. While the weather was extreme and unpredictable, the experience itself was a memorable one, if not always the most comfortable.

It was my first big music festival. I’ve never been to Coachella or Bonnaroo. I don’t even go to that many gigs, although I’ve written about some very special ones for this section in the past, let alone an event of the magnitude of Pitchfork. I didn’t really know what to expect, and was a bit trepidatious after looking at the weather forecasts and going over the considerably long list of things that could go wrong in my head. But while the weather was not great, and a few things were checked off the list, I can say that the Festival was a great experience. As the first memory of its kind, it’ll probably be the measuring point for many musical experiences to come.

I arrived Thursday night in Chicago, caught a bit of sleep before the first day, and took it easy at my friend’s apartment in Logan square Friday morning. There weren’t really any acts I wanted to see in the early hours of the festival, so I lounged around until about 4:30, where we caught a bit of iLoveMakonnen’s set while waiting for Mac DeMarco. iLoveMakonnen, while derided by the friends I was with, wasn’t bad, although he teased his only memorable song, “Tuesday”, a bit too much.

DeMarco’s set was pure entertainment. The indie darling and “BBQ rock” impresario, seemingly constantly on the edge of super-stardom, played a chilled-out set to a comfortable crowd, his feel-good tunes and silly stage persona, backed up by some serious instrumentation, a perfect fit for the summer weather. Ever the indie rock populist, Mac surfed the crowd for a bit to the accompaniment of his backing band to top things off, and left us with a trademark twinkle in his eye.

Up next on the stage was CHVRCHES, and as we huddled as near the front as we could, we heard Panda Bear’s set drift over from the other side of the park. I had seen CHVRCHES last year in downtown Omaha, so I knew more or less what to expect. Still, I was disappointed to become violently sick and have to leave my prime location mere feet away from the Scottish trio, ending my first night early.

The memorable second day started off a little earlier, as we trekked to the park in time to hear Future Brown’s DJ set as we waited for Ex Hex at the Red stage. I had also seen Ex Hex last year at a gig in the city, and so when it began to suddenly rain torrentially, driving the girl group off stage and the audience stampeding to the train station, I wasn’t as disappointed as I could’ve been. The scenes of the park below as we reached the station were dramatic. A sodden mass of people, chaotically swirling about with the rain, shoving each other to get onto an already full bus, disrupting traffic, seemingly devoid for the soggy moment of all sense.

But twenty minutes later, we received the notification that the festival was going ahead, and, surveying our dripping clothing with a sense of quiet disillusionment, we headed back to the festival. And after an extremely short set from Ariel Pink, and a very predictable one from A$AP Ferg, I found myself queueing up for Future Islands, a band who I’ve been kicking myself for missing when they came through Omaha last year ever since discovering them. Their set was transcendent from the first notes. Frontman Sam Herring electrified the crowd, beating his chest and dancing like a madman, and singing, screaming his heart out to every song. Nothing could compete with this performance, but Sleater-Kinney were the next act, and they were duly impressive, closing out my night with remarkable presence and authority.

The one goal for my weekend was to catch Jamie XX’s set from as close as possible, so with that in mind, we camped out at Pitchfork’s Red stage for pretty much the entire afternoon on Sunday, catching about half of Viet Cong to start with, who were competent if not really my cup of tea. Freddie Gibbs came up next, and while I’d never been exposed to him before, his “real gangster” persona, charismatic stage presence, and blistering delivery quickly caught my attention. He was backed up by the legendary producer Madlib, and I spotted Future Islands’ Sam Herring backstage, head bobbing with the rest of us.

I forgot about Perfume Genius’ set, and while that’s a bit sad, it at least gave me an incredible spot for Jamie XX. While the wait for Jamie seemed interminable, at long last he came on stage, and began a beautiful set, that while more of a DJ set and less of a performance than I expected, was still a profoundly moving experience in a weekend full of them. Treating the audience to extended bits of the samples from the album tracks, Jamie kept the mood flowing, and the crowd responded enthusiastically. His sample of The Persuasions in I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times) reminded us all of what we were experiencing, and when the set was over, I felt the festival itself was done for me.

But there were a few more acts to go before the Good Times ended for good. Run the Jewels, another hip-hop group I hadn’t really listened to much, pounded through a set that included the likes of Zach De La Rocha and Gangsta Boo, drawing one of the biggest crowds of the weekend and making a big impression with the conscious rap lyrics coupled with heavy production and punctuated with riotous punchlines. Local hero Chance the Rapper ended the festival, and while his performance was good, it couldn’t really support the weight of hype and level of pageantry on his stage. Without a single studio album’s worth of songs to draw from, the set felt a bit thinly stretched when compared to previous acts. Still, the local crowd responded enthusiastically, and it was a fitting closer in many ways for the festival.

Pitchfork 2015 was a truly great experience, and one that’ll probably leave a deep impression on me. It was wonderful to see the Midwest put on this kind of show, and while Chicago is a bit different from Omaha, there are enough similarities to give me hope about Omaha’s chances of becoming a similar venue in the near future. The Maha Festival, which we covered earlier, is great proof of that. Until then, Pitchfork remains the fest to beat in the Midwest, and for this writer, will be tough to beat.

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