Smile Politely

The magic of Ebertfest returns

Ebertfest is unlike your ordinary old trip to see a movie. There’s a buzz in the air. Maybe it’s just Ebert’s name, or the stars that come out to be a part of the experience. My thought is that it’s something more though. We’re fortunate to have an annual event like Ebertfest, on top of all of the day-to-day great film happenings around town.

Ebertfest turns things up a notch though because of its grandeur. There’s something so perfect about it being held at the Virginia Theater, which is celebrating it’s 90th year this year. It all just makes sense. It’s a large scale that somehow still maintains such intimacy. When I visit I feel nostalgic for something that is beyond me, perhaps a past of which I wasn’t actually a part. I feel the same way going to an old baseball stadium, like Wrigley Field. There’s history there. The experience is sweetened.

I’m probably in the minority here when I say that “Wild and Weird” is the event I look forward to the most this year at Ebertfest. Last year, the Alloy Orchestra captivated me with their accompaniment to the classic Fritz Lang film Metropolis. It was the reason I wanted to start writing film reviews.

This year the Alloy Orchestra will be playing along with a selection of rare silent shorts. Alloy is a three-man ensemble but the sound they generate makes them worthy of their namesake. They utilize their “rack of junk” and electronic synthesizers, creating a unique sound that refreshes silent film into something full, rich and completely new. They’re versatile, powerful and energetic. If you’re a fan of silent film then this is going to blow you away. If you’re not a fan, you’ll probably become one.

My second can’t miss pick is to check out Patton Oswalt. He’ll be at two events this year, both on Thursday, for Big Fan and Kind Hearts and Coronets. Honestly, I haven’t seen either of those films but Oswalt is a funny guy and the chance to interact with him sounds like a great opportunity (he didn’t respond to my Twitter and Facebook interview requests so I missed out on that attempt).

Overall, I guess I would say that the films this year really focus on character.  There are some great choices here, including A Separation, which won the Academy Award for best foreign film, and Take Shelter (which played at the Art not too long ago). But you’re probably not going to get another chance to see films like Kinyarwanda, Patang, and Higher Ground, all of which seem to promise strong, convincing, complex characters that take good films to another level.

Lastly, be sure to check out the schedule of academic panel discussions workshops and presentations accompanying the film festival. These offer great opportunities for those who want to get more critical insight into trends and issues in film, as well as the technical skills needed to make your own.

Wednesday, April 25
7 p.m. – Joe Versus the Volcano

10 p.m. – The Truth about Beauty and Blogs

10:15 p.m. – Phunny Business: A Black Comedy

Thursday, April 26

1 p.m. – Big Fan

4 p.m. – Kinyarwanda

8:30 p.m. – Terri

10:30 p.m. – Kind Hearts and Coronets, hosted by Patton Oswalt at the Foellinger Auditorium (free)

Friday, April 27

1 p.m. On Borrowed Time

4 p.m. – Wild and Weird with the Alloy Orchestra

8:30 p.m. – A Separation

Saturday, April 28

1 p.m. – Higher Ground

4 p.m. – Patang

8:30 p.m. – Take Shelter

Sunday, April 29

Noon – Citizen Kane (with commentary track by Ebert)

4:30 p.m. – Antwone Fisher: a special post-festival screening by the Champaign County Anti-Stigma Alliance

Individual tickets for the movies are $13 for adults and $11 for students and senior citizens.

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