Smile Politely

A few fine Ebertfest moments

Everyone who has attended Ebertfest more than once has a favorite moment or two or ten. 

Maybe it’s seeing Lawrence of Arabia or 2001: A Space Odyssey in 70mm for the first, and probably last, time. 

Maybe it’s one of the fascinating or entertaining interviews, from big stars like John Malkovich (who was propositioned by a drunk school teacher on the way to the interview), to the gee-whiz amazement of newbies like Stone Reader‘s Dow Mosssman, to the utterly captivating Werner Herzog, who is in a category all by himself.

Maybe it’s just being at the Virginia, seeing films that were meant to shown there.

We asked a few longtime Ebertfest attendees to share some of their favorite moments, below. Feel free to add your own.

Chuck Koplinski, Smile Politely film critic:

Ebertfest 4 (2002): Without question, the most memorable event for me at Ebertfest was the screening of Metropolis in 2002. The Alloy Orchestra was on hand to accompany the film with their own original score, and while I had seen the movie many times in the past, their performance made it seem as though I were viewing it for the first time.

One of the things I like most about going to Ebertfest is that the audience is made up of people who love film and are eager to drink in the unique cinematic experience that the festival offers. Often, there is a palpable sense of electricity in the air, and that was certainly the case during the Metropolis screening. Spontaneous applause, collective gasps, and an appreciative standing ovation were all part of that evening that made a 75-year-old film seem as fresh as the day it was released.


Jamie Newell, Smile Politely Editor and last year’s Smile Politely Ebertfest blogger:

Though I can’t imagine anything ever topping my previous Ebertfest (c’mon, I met one of my heroes, Bill Nack, and crashed a V.I.P. party), I will say one of my fondest memories of the fest was my second one, in 2003. I came all the way from my hometown of Shelbyville to catch one movie at the festival (Blood and Wine), and when two of my friends opted out at the last minute, I ended up going to the show with a friend who lived in Champaign, and he took me on a tour of the downtown. The tour ended up being more memorable than the movie; we ended up getting married, and now we attend Ebertfest every year together.


Dan Schreiber, Smile Politely Editor and contributor to the Unofficial Ebertfest Blog:

Ebertfest 7: Many people rate as their favorite Ebertfest moment the first Werner Herzog interview, as they sat transfixed in their chairs well into the middle of the night. I missed that one, so I will nominate the best interview I attended: Mario Van Peebles. He was at Ebertfest for Baadasssss!, a docudrama about the making of his father Melvin’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.

Mario has serious presence in front of a crowd. He told funny story after funny story, weaving social commentary throughout. One was of his re-shooting the iconic scene where Sweetback is running through a dry channel in LA. Out of nowhere during the shoot, a hobo came wandering out of the channel and yelled out, “Hey, it’s Sweetback! He’s back!  He really did come back!” 

Mario talked with pride about how his father’s film broke down racial stereotypes of the day. Then he talked with annoyance that his father made him pay for any original Sweetback footage that Mario used in Baadasssss!.

Mostly though, he brought a family film titled Baadasssss Grandkids!, a parody starring his kids. We were treated to a parody of a docudrama of the first blaxploitation film, with three generations of talented Van Peebles.  This is why we go to Ebertfest. 

Also, I got to stand in line next to Mario in the line to the bathroom. He apparently does his business just like everyone else. Another reason we go to Ebertfest.


Brody Finney, Gentleman Adventurer, who has attended every Ebertfest but ’06:

Ebertfest 1: I became convinced while standing in line for “Tron” that buying a festival pass was a good idea, as the line stretched down the entire block of Randolph Street and halfway down University.

Ebertfest 5, 2003: After “The Black Pirate” played and after Roger Ebert had chatted with the Alloy guys and whatever other guest he had, they started taking questions from the audience.  A middle-aged woman took the microphone and commented that her 80-some-odd-year-old father was with her and he had seen the film as a young boy on its first run.  Roger asked him what he had thought of it then, to which he replied “Everybody clapped and cheered for the fights, but we didn’t think much of the kissing”.  The audience laughed about as hard as you expect.

Ebertfest 7: Kino!  Kino!  KINO!!!!!! 

They showed Guy Maddin’s short, The Heart of the World, at least three times due to audience demand.  Me likes me some Guy Maddin.


Katherine Bartel, Artist and Ebertfest enthusiast:

Asking a question in public does not come naturally for me, so the special guests that appear after the film usually don’t know that I exist. However, I had read that Werner Herzog was frustrated with the professional crew given to him to shoot Rescue Dawn because they wanted to make it look good. He had told his cinematographer to just shoot it, that it didn’t matter unless it moved the story along. As an artist, I was fascinated by his lack of interest in visual quality, so I asked him to clarify his view of the relationship between aesthetics and filmmaking.

Herzog humbly claimed to know nothing about art, and saw beauty in things like the dancing chicken he shot in Cherokee, North Carolina. Anyone who can find beauty in the trashy strip of tourist stands along Cherokee’s main road is seeing something I do not, and hence his accomplishment. And asking one of my heroes a question makes my life complete.

At an earlier festival, my husband Rus was standing outside on the sidewalk talking to the director and main subject of the documentary Stone Reader, which focused on a search for the author that took much longer than one might expect. Another fan came up to them and said, “Oh, good, I have all three of you here.” No one corrected him.


Collin A. Bullock, Smile Politely movie reviewer

I’ve been going to Ebertfest since the very first one, back in 1864 or whenever it started.  Needless to say, I have a plethora of Ebertfest memories. Be sure to ask me about the time I tried to defend Tom Green against Mr. Ebert’s attacks while a packed Virginia theatre looked on.  As you might imagine, the crowd did not take my side.

The best guest ever was Mark Bortchardt, subject of the film American Movie. I don’t know if I have ever seen an audience enjoy anything quite as much as the audience enjoyed that movie when it was shown here. The next year Mark showed up just to hang out. I caught him outside the theatre having a cigarette.

“You are the coolest person alive,” a 17-year-old Collin A. Bullock said.

“No,” Mark replied, “that’s Jesus Christ, motherf**ker.”

The next year I was living in a house on Green Street, and after the Saturday night after party Mark and his good friend Mike Shank were looking for a house to party at, and so I suggested my place. They stayed around for a few warm PBRs, but they left pretty quickly. I think they found my place too disgusting to spend any time in, which is almost a badge of honor if one considers that Mr. Bortchardt used to have a job cleaning toilets in a funeral home.

More Articles