Ebertfest 2010: Day #1

22 April, 2010 (10:17) | Geek Bytes | By: Melissa, Queen of the Lizard People

Hi, all! Melissa here. At this very moment, I’m ensconced in a coffee shop in Champaign, IL, with free wi-fi and a half hour of spare time. I figured I’d give everyone a very brief update on Ebertfest.

Ebertfest is a five-day film festival, hosted by film critic of Roger Ebert. (Yes, that’s the same Roger Ebert from At the Movies. Yes, it’s the same guy who recently declared that video games could never be art. I’m wearing a Legend of Zelda jacket to the film festival today, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.) The festival takes place in his collegiate hometown of Champaign, at a gorgeous art deco building called The Virginia Theatre. It consists of 13 films; most are recent overlooked films or older classics. There is usually one 70mm print placed on the screen, and there is usually one silent film scored by live musicians. This year’s Ebertfest includes such things as Apocalypse Now Redux (a title that always makes my inner chemist wince, but my inner cineast leap for joy), Dziga Vertov’s amazing Man With a Movie Camera, and Song Sung Blue.

I’ve never been to Ebertfest before, but the combined efforts of The Virginia Theatre, My Faithful Native Guide Mirko, and a complete and total stranger named Barbara landed me both free lodging and a pass to the festival (which have been sold out since early January). Thus, yesterday I made the nine-hour drive from Minneapolis to Champaign, through the beautiful sunlit rolling fields of the central United States. After Mirko treated me to beers at a place called The Blind Pig, and we found sustenance at a place called Cowboy Monkey (best. restaurant. name. ever.), I was released into the theater.

I managed to score a seat in the front row of the balcony. I sadly had a corner of plexiglass in my line of sight toward the screen, but with a seat like that, I couldn’t complain much.

Chaz Ebert, Roger’s charming and gregarious wife, opened the festival with a short introduction. She was followed by a woman from the Illinois Film Board, whose name I utterly failed to write down. (Sadly, the Ebertfest materials, combined with the Icelandic volcanic eruption, has made it difficult for me to track who was talking live. More on that later.) Then Illinois governor Pat Quinn came onstage with Roger Ebert himself. After a very lengthy and glowing speech from Gov. Quinn, April 21st was declared “Ebertfest Day”. Speeches and applause all around.

Roger himself got up to the podium for a speech and looked quite spry, which is remarkable for a man whose jaw has been taken away by thyroid cancer. Roger manages to speak to audiences these days through his Apple laptop, which was always nearby when he was on stage. The computer voice sounds a bit Stephen Hawking-ish, but really, Apple’s text-to-speech software has come a long way since I first toyed with around 15 years ago. The robotic nature of the computerized voice was softened by the fact that Roger would humorously gesture along with it, once he set it rolling.

(Is it wrong of me to want to see him debate Hawking on something? Just once?)

The first item of the festival was a short film called “Stand By Me”. Do yourself a favor and watch it right now:

This was followed by a 35mm print of Pink Floyd The Wall, which always makes me wonder why anyone in their right mind would get stoned before watching this film. I’d never seen it in a theater before, though, so last night’s viewing was a cinematic joy (of sorts… The Wall evokes a lot of emotion for most folks, but “joy” usually isn’t in the mix). My one lament is that the print was not the 70mm print promised by the festival materials. However, the 70mm print apparently came in from Britain, but failed inspection by the festival runners. (In the words of one of the festival organizers, the print was, “Pink. Very pink. Too pink.” Funny in this context, yes, but it’s sad that the only 70mm print of The Wall in existence has deteriorated that much.) Thankfully, Warner Brothers provided a 35mm print at the last minute, or else we wouldn’t have seen the film at all.

Much has been said about The Wall since 1982, and I doubt I could shed much more light on it here, especially since my half hour is mostly up. A panel of international film critics discussed the film for around an hour after the showing, and mostly determined that the film was about the parallels between fascism and rock & roll, the isolation of self, and the life of Roger Waters.

The most interesting observation of the night came from Tom Dark, the one critic on stage who hadn’t seen the film before that night. He theorized that rock & roll prevented World War III, by venting the anger and frustration of youth.

Well, how do you follow The Wall? With a Swedish comedy about isolation, of course.

I’m talking about a film called You, the Living, which came out a couple years ago, and which I saw for the first time last night. My first post on Twitter about the film said: “You, the Living is a movie I can’t really describe. I can at least describe The Wall. Consider that.” I did enjoy the film immensely. There are portions of the film that I found howlingly funny, and individual scenes are genuine works of art. But I don’t have the words to describe it.

Thankfully, a hastily-assembled panel of critics discussed the film at length at midnight, and they provided me with the right words. I lament that I don’t have any of their names at hand (if I can figure out who they were today, I’ll post a correction). One critic described it as, “an Alfred Hitchcock plot as written by Samuel Beckett.” Another said it was “like The Far Side crossed with Ingmar Bergman.” A third noted that it was “like being stuck in the ugliest IKEA ever.” All three descriptions are apt, and yet they fail to embrace the sheer oddity of You, the Living.

I guess my description of it, as flawed as it is, is that the film is a string of 50 or so absurdist vignettes about disconnected people. One of the critics noted that the film was more like installation art than a movie, which is something I was mulling over before he said it. The movie sets up static spaces, and deadpan things happen in the spaces.

Anyway, if you have an off-kilter sense of humor, I highly recommend You, the Living. You can test his humor yourself by viewing this playlist of his commercial work on YouTube. If you laugh yourself silly by watching these, you know what to do next.

Anyway, that closed out the night, and I am now about 10 minutes behind schedule. I have to get back to the theater for today’s noon showing of Munyurangabo. Catch you tomorrow!

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