LINCOLN — The karma is running well for the first-ever Lincoln Film Festival in Lincoln.

And why shouldn't it be?

It's been co-organized by an Oscar-winning director whose first cinematic life experience took place there.

"There" refers to the front rows of the original Lincoln Theatre on South Kickapoo Street, long before it expanded several times over, most recently into the Lincoln Grand 8 Theater, now owned and run by her best friend from high school.

"The first movie I ever saw was 'The Love Bug'," remembers Brenda Chapman, the Beason native whose cinematic education took place in downtown Lincoln, usually courtesy the latest Disney release ... such as that 1969 Disney hit about a super-hero VW named Herbie.

"I can still remember being there in that theater with its dome on top, and hearing the people whispering, sounding like they were talking right next to you," adds Chapman, who would grow up to win an Oscar for co-directing her own Disney movie, 2012's "Brave" (via the studio's Pixar arm).

"I couldn't have been more than 4 or 5," she adds.

Chapman's flashbacks are occurring just days before returning to the scene of her cinematic initiation as the co-founder of this weekend's inaugural Lincoln Film Festival.

That event opens Friday night with an aptly christened offering: "Lincoln," the Steven Spielberg-directed bio-pic with Daniel Day-Lewis, followed by a gala reception over at the Logan County Courthouse.

It's doubly apt, since Chapman made history as the first woman director of an animated feature 18 years ago via "The Prince of Egypt," produced by the studio Spielberg co-founded, DreamWorks SKG. 

The festival continues Saturday and Sunday with an ambitious slate of close to 40 indie short and feature-length films from around the world and our own backyards screened over the two days. 

Also on tap is a Disney festival of two films bearing Chapman's signature, 1994's "The Lion King" (as head of story) and "Brave," 2012's Best Animated Feature Oscar winner, for which she became the first woman director of an animated film to claim a gold statuette (shared with co-directors Mark Andrews and Steve Purcell; she also co-wrote the script).

Joining her for her homecoming is husband and fellow Disney director Kevin Lima, whose credits include both animated hits ("Tarzan") and live action favorites ("102 Dalmatians," "Enchanted," the latter being screened Saturday with Lima as host).

Indeed, as their union might suggest, there is still one MORE big "first" to add to the Chapman list (but, thankfully, she smiles, not gender-specific): Chapman and Lima are the first and, to date, last married couple in animation history to both have Disney directing credits.

In fact, animation directing credits with any studio.

Upping the "all in the family" vibe: The couple's daughter, Emma, who was born weeks after the release of "Prince of Egypt," provided the template for "Brave's" arrow-shooting princess heroine, Merida.

For Chapman, the urge to draw began "since I could hold a pencil," she recalled to GO! as "Prince of Egypt" was opening around the world in late 1998. It was a pastime her mother likely discovered if she ever examined the undersides of the Chapman home's furniture ... young Brenda's favorite place to leave her proto-artistic mark.

"Mainly people and animals ... I wasn't into landscapes much." Still, there is a particular apricot tree in Beason, in her back yard, she founding herself sketching over and over.

With her mother's encouragement and the support of teachers, Chapman continued her drawing through her grade school years and, later, in high scchool. 

"We met at Lincoln Community High School, each of us coming from very small towns," recalls David G. Lanterman, native of equally tiny Broadwell, and now owner of the Lincoln Grand 8 Theatre, whose expansion from four to eight screens he presided over.

"There were many movies, card games and general fun times, even though Brenda had the earliest curfew among our tight group of friends," he adds.

"The summer I graduated from ISU, Brenda was accepted into Cal-Arts (California Institute of Arts). So we (over)loaded up her Ford Escort and did the cross-country camping trip."

Though their adult lives took them in different directions, "we've always stayed in touch and shared as much time together as life would allow. This film fest is really our first chance in 35 years to partner on a project."

Those 35 years for Chapman began in earnest in 1987, when her CalArts senior film project — "about a little old lady who is alone on her birthday and pulls herself out of the dumps by remembering a party she had when she was a little girl" — earned her a story trainee post at Disney.

Two years later, she notched her first Disney credit, assisting on elements of story construction and illustration on "The Little Mermaid," the watershed film that revitalized the studio's moribund animation tradition.

The rest is history, encompassing not only a long list of credits at Disney, but with DreamWorks ("Prince of Egypt"), Aardman Animation ("Chicken Run"), Pixar ("Brave") and, most recently, LucasFilm ("Strange Magic," for which she also voiced the character of "Imp").

"I've been very fortunate," she says of that broad range of studio experiences.

"What strikes me is that the work I do at each place gets me enough recognition that the next place wants me. It's really so much about me being in the right place at the right time, which started when the industry went through its second resurgence with 'The Little Mermaid' and 'Beauty and the Beast.' Good timing."

She's hoping her latest endeavor benefits from more of the same.

"I want to keep doing this," says Chapman of the festival she'd like to see become an annual affair. "But I don't want it to be viewed as just an animation festival; I want it to be seen a film festival."

Another benefit is the event reuniting her with her soul-mate from where it all began.

Plain and simple, "he's my best friend, " Chapman says of Lanterman. "He was best man at my wedding. Now David's trying to help make Lincoln become more successful by getting people to come in from the bigger towns around the area to our small businesses downtown ... and it's such a sweet downtown. I love it."

"This film festival really is our first chance in 35 years to partner on a project," says Lanterman. "And it's amazing to me that the movie theater where we spent so much time together as teenagers is where life's journey has brought us."

Follow Dan Craft on Twitter: @pg_dcraft

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