The Ruth Sokolof theater, a branch of Omaha’s beloved Film Streams, is located in North Downtown Omaha. Neighbored by other cultural centers such as the Slowdown and Saddle Creek Records, the theater stands as a pinnacle of representation and discourse. The Ruth Sokolof theater is one of the few places in Omaha focused on screening films “based on their creative, artistic, and social merits,” frequently featuring films centered around LGBTQA+ stories, characters, or directors.
Having hosted screenings and discussions of films ranging from Call Me By Your Name to Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Film Streams and the Ruth Sokolof theater represent a vital cultural center for Omaha, which can otherwise lack spaces openly embracing of queer art. The Ruth Sokolof theater also publicly stands as a safe space for Omaha’s queer community through events and clubs focused specifically on LGBTQA+ art.
For example, the theater hosts their yearly “Gender Revolt! A Celebration of Queer Cinema” every summer. This is a collaborative film series presented with the UNO Women’s and Gender Studies Program, presenting history-spanning films and documentaries focused on queer stories. Featured films have included Celluloid Closet, nineties arthouse masterpieces such as Orlando, and what they call “contemporary critical darlings” such as 2015’s Carol and 2016’s Kiki.
For the theater, the mission of representing queer cinema is also a personal one. The theater’s Community Engagement Manager, Angie Balsarini, recently shared the importance of representing queer cinema in Omaha and beyond in a public reflection on Pride Month posted to the theater’s social media accounts.
“I was coming out and growing up in the late ‘90s. At that point in time, I hadn’t really seen any representation that was really positive of queer people in film,” said Balsarini. “But when I saw this film, But I’m a Cheerleader by Jamie Babbit, I felt seen.”
Balsarini continues to reflect on the importance of this moment, and of this film, in feeling understood. The ability to make Omaha’s queer community feel similarly seen and represented drives Balsarini, and the Ruth Sokolof theater, to continue their commitment to queer representation in film. Balsarini is currently working on establishing a queer film club in Omaha, and once the theater safely reopens in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, many favorite films are slated to begin making the rounds once more. For now, viewers can support the Ruth Sokolof’s mission by streaming online.