Sunday, April 25, 2004

Stay Awake All Night

By some fluke of nature I'm still awake after a very long day at Ebertfest. (I said awake, not lucid, so keep that in mind.) Rather than break down the day film by film, an undertaking best left for later, I'll pinpoint some of the top moments.

Since it's too late to order a pizza, I've come to Steak 'n Shake, which, as I write this at 2:00 a.m. (posting at 3:00), is almost full with what looks to be the post-prom crowd. The two nights I've been here I haven't run into Ebert with guests in tow. There, now the environment is set.

The night was capped with Werner Herzog's most recent feature INVINCIBLE and a post-film discussion with the legendary German director. It seems a cruel trick of scheduling that the longest film of the day comes at the end, starting at 10:00 p.m. even. Somehow, though, I felt pretty good at a point in the festival when I usually need to pry open my eyelids with toothpicks. All right, so I did start to get drowsy with thirty minutes to go. But a funny thing happened when Ebert and Herzog took the stage. I was transfixed to their conversation, and the rest of the audience seemed to be as well. Virtually no one left despite the late hour. Critic and director stayed on stage for an hour and a quarter, yet no complaints would have been voiced if they continued.

Herzog, of course, had a number of fascinating anecdotes about his childhood, moviemaking career, and experiences with Klaus Kinski. Some were familiar--the Kinski stories in MY BEST FIEND, for instance. The others, well, you'll just have to trust me. It's hard enough this time of night remembering to look for the traffic lights off to the side here, let alone recalling Herzog's long stories. Suffice it to say that he did not disappoint.

Herzog the man is what you would expect from his films. The films are him. That's also the impression I had of Errol Morris, who was here with GATES OF HEAVEN. Having renowned filmmakers like this at the festival, on the same day no less, makes it a must for the film buff. Throw in Al Pacino via telephone from Los Angeles, Enzo (the dog from FRASIER and, more relevantly, fest selection MY DOG SKIP, and previous festival guests Eric Byler (CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES director, STONE READER subject Dow Mossman, and AMERICAN MOVIE'S Mark Borchardt and Mike Shank, and you know that something special is happening. And I didn't even mention the day's two other directors, noted publicist Bobby Zarem, and Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker.

OK, so the audience portion of the post-film discussions mostly range from rambling statements of appreciation/adoration to incredibly convoluted questions that no one can make sense of. One guy provided a lengthy explanation of how GATES OF HEAVEN reminded him of the novel THE LITTLE PRINCE and wondered if Morris had that in mind when making the film. Morris' amusing answer was a slyly sarcastic yes.

It's the rare opportunity, though, to see these films and their filmmakers in a great theater with a respectful and enthusiastic audience that makes Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival a highlight of my moviegoing year.

This will be my last update from the Urbana Eastland Suites' lounge. More festival info, reflections, and ephemera to come later on Sunday at the earliest.

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