With I Dream of an Omaha Where, documentarian Mele Mason takes audiences to Omaha, Nebraska, where the growth of gangs since the 1980s has created a generational problem and cycle of drug abuse and violence largely ignored by the greater population. With assistance from the Sherwood Foundation, Mason and producer Daniel Beaty orchestrate and document community workshops where those directly affected can share their stories and experiences in the Omaha they see every day. “It’s a problem not only in Omaha, but in a lot of smaller cities where people wouldn’t figure this is going on,” says Mason. With her latest film, she hopes to illustrate not only how it affects the greater community, but how that community can have a greater impact toward solving the problem.
It began as a much smaller project, Mason says, “but what came out of these workshops was so powerful and emotional that we needed to make a full documentary.” Some workshops brought in former gang members to talk about why, others brought in their victims. One was just for mothers who had lost family to gang violence, including a woman telling the story of her five-year-old daughter struck down by an errant bullet while putting her cereal bowl in the sink. “It was the first time she’d ever described what happened,” says Mason, “and virtually everyone in the room was in tears.”
The subject matter is tough, but the need is apparent, says Mason. “As one of the participants said, ‘You have to go through the pain. You can’t go over it and you can’t go under it.’” The stories are heartbreaking, but also invigorating calls to action. “It gives people energy to do things like mentor, volunteer and get involved with their community to combat this problem,” she says. Put on the big screen and given a human face, it’s hard to compartmentalize the violence as far off and uninvolved.
Having already screened across the globe in places like Indonesia and Australia, I Dream of an Omaha Where enjoys its regional premiere at the Sarasota Film Festival and screens April 4 at 2:15pm.
Pictured: Mele Mason. Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.