Friday, April 25, 2008

Ebertfest 2008: Day 2

The first full day of Ebertfest '08 events included a morning panel discussion at the Illini Union and three features and one short at the Virginia Theatre. My morning began with a prematurely early wake up call that cut short an already abbreviated night of sleep, so I'm going to allow photos to do some heavy lifting and scratch down a few thoughts before I slump over the keyboard.

Timothy Spall and Shotgun Stories director Jeff Nichols

Chaz Ebert delivered the news that no one wished to hear but which came as no surprise: Roger has decided to focus on improving his health and will not be attending this year's festival. That he would even consider making a three-hour ride with a recently fractured hip should tell you how much he desired to join his festival family.

Housekeeping director Bill Forsyth and Delirious director Tom DiCillo

Film-wise the day for me could be summed up as muted enthusiasm. I liked Sally Potter's YES when I saw it during its original theatrical run, but I admire and appreciate the craft and technique rather than adore the film overall. The iambic pentameter dialogue is an interesting innovation but can be a bit distracting. Potter plays with the dichotomies of attraction/repulsion and God/nothingness in stimulating ways, yet I engage with the film intellectually much more than I do with the heart.

Rufus Sewell and Richard Roeper

I was less taken on both levels with DELIRIOUS, the day's first film. Tom DiCillo's satire about fame took six years to be realized, but it already feels dated in how it presents the chase for the next hot celebrity photo. (The internet is a non-factor in the film.) Steve Buscemi's scummy paparazzo and Michael Pitt's good-hearted homeless character build a friendship that strains under the pressure of Pitt's nascent stardom. The basic problem I have with DELIRIOUS is that its jaded attitude is not anywhere near as savage (or funny) enough about the absurdity of this high stakes publicity and fame game.

David Bordwell interviews the Canvas team (Joey Pantoliano, far right)

Prior to the third feature, the short film CITIZEN COHL: THE UNTOLD STORY honored the life of Dusty Cohl, a friend of Ebert and the festival. Cohl began the Toronto Film Festival and Floating Film Festival, but the smiling bearded man with the cowboy hat was remembered in the short as someone who brought people together. He was a fixture at Ebertfest, and this year's event is dedicated to him. He died this January, but from the testimonies of those at Ebertfest, his spirit lives on at places like this.

Thursday wrapped with CANVAS, a drama in which Joey Pantoliano and his son struggle to cope with Marcia Gay Harden's schizophrenia. The subject matter and filmmaking approach are of a piece with TV movies-of-the-week, but writer-director Joseph Greco earns a pass by dealing with mental illness in a straightforward manner light on actorly theatrics. In many respects this is a children's film. It's told from the boy's perspective and explores how his mother's illness affects his relationship with her as well as his dad. CANVAS is based on Greco's childhood, which may explain why this angle feels so honest.

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