Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ebertfest 2011: Pre-fest thoughts

If the sky is gray, hard rain is falling, and tornado warnings are being issued, then it must be time for Ebertfest. For whatever reason--perhaps the fact that it's spring in the Midwest--Roger Ebert's Film Festival is usually accompanied by rain and strong winds. Yes, such weather makes for the less than pleasant experience of getting soaked when lining up to be admitted to the Virginia Theatre, but it sure does make one feel less guilty about spending the better part of five days cooped up watching movies than being outside. (Truthfully, the weather isn't always rotten. Selective memory probably makes it seem like it's all rain, all the time.)

This marks the eleventh time I've driven to Champaign and Urbana, Illinois to attend the festival. I look forward to seeing the movies, obviously, but I also anticipate the changes to the lovely old theater and the cities. Sometimes I feel like the Harvey Keitel character in SMOKE, who takes the same photograph every day. In my situation, it's snapping what are probably similar shots over a five day stretch year after year.

I can hardly believe that I've been coming to Ebertfest since 2001, nor can I believe how life in general has changed. AAA TripTiks have been put aside for directions printed from the internet, which have been replaced by a GPS. For one year's trip I lugged my desktop along with the intention of blogging from my hotel room and using a free introductory offer on an ISP CD to secure web access over the phone line. (I ended up sitting at a computer in the hotel's lobby well after midnight typing my daily reports.)

The movies are the primary attraction, but the longer I've attended, the more the community around the event been a key reason why I keep wanting to return. It's no accident, I think, that the participatory and communal qualities on EBERT PRESENTS AT THE MOVIES feels like an extension of Ebertfest. The show isn't just two film critics, and Ebertfest isn't only Ebert. The program and the festival provide platforms for multiple voices to be joined in discussing the cinema that we all love. (This was as true of Ebertfest before its namesake became incapable of conducting the post-film talks.) In that spirit, I intend to meet up with more of the critics I've come to know,either by meeting them at this fest or becoming acquainted with them via social media.

What about this year's movies, you ask? I've seen seven of the thirteen and six of the first seven showing, so that defuses some of the excitement for me. (There's also one title I dislike relatively strongly and another I don't have any real interest in seeing again but whatever. I don't want to be a grump about those particular choices.) I'm most looking forward to seeing a film I've seen three times, including once at this very festival. The latest (and longest) cut of METROPOLIS accompanied by The Alloy Orchestra is sure to be a highlight. It was when they played with it here years ago. I'm interested to hear what Richard Linklater has to say when he appears with ME AND ORSON WELLES. Plus, actress Rachael Harris, who's here with NATURAL SELECTION, attended the same college I went to (and where I now work), and the well-shot documentary 45365 covers a town that's near where I grew up.

As usual, you can expect my coverage here every day. I'll be shooting some video as well, although chances are I won't begin to mess with any of that until the festival is over. With that said, let Ebertfest begin.

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