The films scheduled for this year's Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival have finally been announced. The slate has been reduced from fourteen to twelve, although I think that was the case at this point last year. (Come to think of it, there's no mention of the Brown vs. Board of Education documentary which is supposed to be playing, so one more film may yet be added to the schedule.) While I'm always up to see more films, cutting it back by one or two should give more time for post-film discussions or taking a break in between to get something to eat and see the sunlight. I'd hope it also would mean more time to get from the two morning discussions to the theater than what has typically been a case of making a mad rush from the University of Illinois to the Virginia Theatre.
I've only seen four of the twelve films, three of which I haven't seen for at least four years and two that I've never seen theatrically. Here's the list with my thoughts:
-LOUIE BLUIE (Terry Zwigoff, 1986) and SWEET OLD SONG (Leah Malan, 2002)
These two documentaries about the blues artist Howard Armstrong are standing in for this year's festival closing musical. Don't know much about these films or Armstrong, but I'm curious to see Zwigoff's first film. As was done in 2002 after SAY AMEN SOMEBODY, a post-film concert will feature some of those seen in SWEET OLD SONG. Apparently the organizers hoped to have Armstrong at the festival, but he died last summer. I had been hoping that the musical might be THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG since a re-release print is circulating, but these docs should be interesting.
-EL NORTE (Gregory Nava, 1984)
It's the film's twentieth anniversary. I know the title and know the director, but that's about it.
-GATES OF HEAVEN (Errol Morris, 1978)
Since Morris is supposed to attend, maybe he'll kick off the post-screening discussion with a statement that it's about time one of his films was recognized at the Overlooked Film Festival. OK, maybe we don't need a replay of his Oscar acceptance speech. I'm not at all surprised that Ebert picked GATES OF HEAVEN. He's been one of this film's biggest supporters--he has called it one of the ten greatest films ever--which led me to track it down on videotape at the Westerville Public Library six or seven years ago. Morris is one of the top documentarians working today, and this film about a pet cemetary is something else.
-THE GENERAL (Clyde Bruckman, 1927)
I've never seen this undisputed Buster Keaton classic, and it should be all the better with live accompaniment from The Alloy Orchestra. Darren Ng's THE SCAPEGOAT precedes this year's silent feature film.
-LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (David Lean, 1962)
Festival tradition has been to open with a 70mm epic, and this should be a special treat. It may be fifteen years since I've seen this--and even then on two panned-and-scanned videotapes most likely--so this should be awesome. I missed seeing this a few years ago when it played the Ohio Theater as part of the CAPA Summer Film Series, but this will more than make up for that.
-MY DOG SKIP (Jay Rusell, 2000)
It's unusual for me to see films far in advance of release, but Columbus was a test market for MY DOG SKIP. I saw it in November 1999, I think, but the film didn't open until January 2000. I liked it and don't mind seeing it again. My NOW PLAYING co-host Paul was over the moon for it and will probably tell me it's time to reevaluate the B- I gave this kids' film.
-ONCE UPON A TIME...WHEN WE WERE COLORED (Tim Reid, 1995)
A few years back I had the opportunity to interview Tim Reid when he was going to be in town to present his latest film. I planned on talking to him on the basis of the reputation of ONCE UPON A TIME...WHEN WE WERE COLORED, but then I saw ASUNDER. The African-American potboiler ended up making my worst of the year list. It was one of those generic FATAL ATTRACTION-type films that was so awful I passed on the interview. I had no desire to talk about the film or tell the former Venus Flytrap I thought his film was crap when he would inevitably ask what I thought.
-PEOPLE I KNOW (Daniel Algrant, 2002)
Here's one of those films that certainly fits the overlooked definition. Is it any good? Beats me. It had a lot of trouble getting distribution. (I seem to recall some issues with shots of the World Trade Center towers in it, but I don't think that was why it was minimally released in this country.) Ebert thinks highly of it, so hopefully that's a good sign. Al Pacino is usually interesting to watch even when the films aren't.
-THE SON (LE FILS) (Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, 2002)
This film just missed making my Honorable Mentions for 2003 list, and I have the sneaking suspicion if I'd had the chance to see it again, it might have moved up. Although not explicity Christian in the sense that I don't recall God or Jesus being mentioned, it is one of the most powerful depictions of the Christian ethos in practice that you'll find in a film. Looks like it's finally coming to DVD at the end of May, but it'll be good to see this on a big screen again.
-TARNATION (Jonathan Caouette, 2003)
Gus Van Sant lent his name as executive producer for this film, and I asked him about it when I interviewed him a couple weeks ago. He was very enthusiastic about it, natch. Made on iMovie for supposedly $187, this will be the most experimental film of the festival and perhaps the must see. I'm guessing it will also be the most divisive. Ebert has done a good job each year of programming at least one new film that is making the rounds but not widely distributed. I saw STONE READER and CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES last year, neither of which reached Columbus. 2002 had KWIK STOP, which is still undistributed as far as I know. 2001 featured MARYAM, which came here a year later.
-TULLY (Hilary Birmingham, 2000)
My familiarity with this film begins and ends with the poster that was displayed at the Drexel for months. It'll be nice to see the film.
Overall, I'm pleased with Ebert's selections. I haven't seen too many of the films, and of those that I have, I'm eager to see them again. It should be a good five days in Champaign-Urbana.