Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Pre-Ebertfest 2012

I've arrived once again in Champaign, Illinois to attend Roger Ebert's Film Festival, also known as Ebertfest.  This will be my twelfth(!) time attending, which doesn't seem like it's possible, and to the best of my ability, I'll be blogging about it while I'm the Land of Lincoln.

Anyway, I'm here a night early because Patton Oswalt was supposed to be hosting a special screening of KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS at the University of Illinois tonight.  (Oswalt was invited to the festival since BIG FAN is part of this year's lineup.)  I thought that might be a fun thing to do--I've never seen KIND HEARTS--and I liked the idea of easing into the festival rather than rushing into town and then zipping from movies to panels and more movies.  Knowing that I would definitely be here Wednesday through Sunday, I pre-paid for the room on Tuesday night to save a few bucks...and then the screening was moved to a different evening to accommodate Oswalt's schedule.  So here I am in town with nothing to do.

Since I've been busy and thus unable to keep up my standard relentless pace of moviegoing--keep in mind I'm still seeing around four a week in theaters--I figured I'd use the free evening to catch up with a film on my to-see list.  That's certainly a better idea than trying to find something worthwhile on the hotel's basic cable.

I knew the Art Theater was playing THE BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN, but I decided against seeing it because I didn't feel like taking a chance on what the digital presentation might be.  It sounds terrible to say this, but I'd rather watch it at home on Netflix Instant than gamble on paying for something whose A/V quality is an unknown quantity.  If it had been a print, I'd have been there.

Pulling up the listings on the Flixster app revealed two multiplexes within five miles and a drive-in within fifty miles.  That's when, after more than a decade of visiting, I realized how few opportunities the locals have to see much of anything beyond the widely distributed studio films.  (Both theaters were showing everything you'd expect, although one was playing THE RAID: REDEMPTION, which I chose to see since I did a lot of sleep-deprived head-nodding when I saw it at the Toronto International Film Festival's Midnight Madness screening.)

Ebertfest does a lot right, but I'll admit to being a little irritated with the number of invited films that opened within the last six months of the previous year or even this calendar year.  In most cases I've already seen them, and I figure they were probably available theatrically to most festival attendees, not to mention that they can be readily acquired on DVD/Blu-ray/streaming video now.  Granted, I know the festival isn't programmed exclusively for me, but having attended when some harder-to-see titles were booked, it's a little disappointing to have very recent ones dominate the schedule.

Now that I have a better sense of what the moviegoing options are here in Champaign-Urbana, I can set some of that irritation and disappointment aside. While Ebertfest does bring in plenty of people from outside the area, I've always understood the event as a gift to this community.  In my ignorance, I assumed that this university town would get more specialty titles than it appears it does.  So, it's fair enough to pick recent arthouse films to play the festival, even if I'd like to see Ebert reaching back a few more years when making his selections.  I guess there's still something for me to learn about this event after all these years.

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