That delay may have been for the best as I'd already seen UMBERTO D, MY DOG TULIP, and TINY FURNITURE theatrically. I watched the latter two within the last six months and wasn't crazy about either one. My opinions remain unchanged, although I'll ease up a smidgen on my rather harsh original assessment of MY DOG TULIP. I still could do with a lot less of the emphasis on the dog's excretory functions, but I didn't find this content as intensely distasteful as I did during my first viewing.
I mentioned earlier that the festival is about more than the movies; it's about the community of people who come together for the event. Keeping true to my word to interact more with those I met at last year's festival and those I've become familiar with via social media, I headed out with the group of critics and filmmakers for karaoke night at a Champaign bar.
But first, before leaving the Virginia Theatre I was able to have a conversation with NATURAL SELECTION star Rachael Harris, who attended the same small liberal arts college I did. That was a pleasant surprise, but it is also the sort of thing that this festival permits more easily. Granted, it didn't hurt that the polo shirt I was wearing had the school's name on it, which she and her director spotted as soon as I joined the group ready to head out for some Champaign nightlife. (And yes, I was truthful when asked if I'd seen her film the previous night and what I thought.) Although I had an in, by and large the filmmakers mingle with the festivalgoers and do so happily.
Best as I can tell, critic Ali Arikan is the unofficial social chair. Wrapped in a cape-like blanket, he led the pack to a local bar that was quickly overrun with us Ebertfest attendees. The chances of me getting in front of everyone to belt out a number were slim to none, but what a blast it was to be in the mix to cheer on IFC's Matt Singer get things started with his smooth Michael McDonald-like stylings, Harris tackle Salt-N-Pepa, and Roger Ebert's wife Chaz perform "Superfreak".
Ebertfest is a celebration of movies and their power to unify. A memorable night such as this, which brought together thirty or forty people from the festival and a few locals who happened to be at the bar, is as much in the spirit of the event as sitting down to watch the films. For those who don't understand the tweets and reports buzzing about a university town film festival whose purpose isn't to find the next hot thing in cinema, a couple hours tonight at Bentley's would have cleared it all up.