The annual magic that Ebertfest brings to Champaign-Urbana is back. The Virginia Theatre has received a makeover and its character is on full display now more than ever. Wow. Check out Sean O’Connor’s photo gallery below.
But the nostalgia I wrote about last year will be mixed with melancholy as we continue to mourn the loss of Roger Ebert, a man of character. Ebert’s passing puts a new spin on this festival, and the films themselves will inevitably seem more essential and palpable, at least for myself, as I reflect on Ebert’s final film choices.
Last year the focus seemed to be on strong characters and I would say that this year sticks to that formula, presenting conflicted, challenged, or challening people who are trying to find their place and their own form of peace in the world. There are some really amazing films here that I know I would have overlooked had they not made it to town (The Spectacular Now, Escape From Tomorrow, and Oslo, August 31st) and a few that I hoped would make it here one day (Blancanieves, Kumaré, and In the Family).
three five standouts below (Julia, Blancanieves, Kumaré, Bernie, and Oslo, August 31st) that are my picks for the year, even though you should see them all if you get the chance. Mathew Green previewed Days of Heaven yesterday. Tracy Nectoux has made her pick below with In The Family (look for her full preview today at 1:00 p.m.). Seth Fein has chosen the Disney vacation horror-fantasy Escape From Tomorrow. Also, look for a full preview of Kumaré from Thom Schnarre on Friday afternoon.
All the films are sold out, but many are worth a wait to try to get in. Whatever you choose, I say wait and do anything you have to do to see Julia and Tilda’s Swinton’s concurrent return to The Virginia Theatre stage.
And don’t overlook the panel discussions, another wonderful part of this festival.
We’ll see you at the movies.
Wednesday, April 17,
7:00 p.m. Days of Heaven (with special guest Haskell Wexler, Cinematographer,DP)
I Remember (with special guests Grace Wang Writer, Director; June Kim, Director of Photography; and Lily Huang, Actor)
I hope that you’ve already read Matthew Green’s preview of Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven by this point. Fans of Malick’s later work, The Thin Red Line, The Tree of Life, and the upcoming To the Wonder (coming in May to the Art Theater Co-op) get an introduction to his visual meditations of the silver screen.
Saturday, April 20
11:00 a.m. Blancanieves (with special guest Pablo Berger, Director)
The first fifteen minutes of Blancanieves are slow-burning suspense, showcasing the devilish tango bullfight of the great bullfighter Antonio. The art of bullfighting is a brutal spectacle, which some of the audience embraces and others fear. Mother-to-be, Carmen, Antonio’s wife, feels the hurt for her battered husband deep in her womb. Although Carmen goes into early labor, she is called “lucky” because of her marriage to a great man. But she is not lucky after all, and with the loss of her life, her daughter is cast under a curse from the unforgiving eyes of the bull and her widower father.
Blancanieves is a take on the classic Snow White story, set in Spain with tenderhearted bullfighting dwarves, an evil, self-absorbed step-mother (Encarna) who you’ll love to hate, and a pet rooster that holds up his own as an empathetic character. It’s a silent black and white film about redemption, perseverance, and forgiveness that Spain chose as their entry into this year’s Oscars. Seeing it is evidence that they made the right choice. It’s a beautifully shot film full of contrast in its light and shadows and its good versus evil battles.
2:00 p.m. Kumaré (with special guests Vikram Gandhi, Director and Stephen Feder, Producer)
Kumaré is a documentary by Vikram Gandhi that approaches religion as an experiment. Gandhi poses as the guru Kumaré, a façade that he has created to present the ideal version of himself. While it may seem cruel to misrepresent oneself to others, I assure you that this is no Borat, and the takeaway isn’t a laugh at the expense of others. Kumare serves as a mirror to his new followers, bringing the experience of the same peace in his made-up religious wisdom that they might find through more “authentic” means. It’s an exposé on lies versus truth and the perception of self versus the ideal self. It’s an unexpected and inspiring film that will surely move you and leave you holding your breath during the big reveal.
5:00 p.m. Escape from Tomorrow (with special guests Randy Moore, Director;
Soojin Chung, Editor; and Roy Abramsohn, Actor)
I pretty rarely, if ever, write about films, and this is no exception. Part of my problem is that I simply don’t know much about this particular film except this: it was shot at Disney World and Disney Land without the massive conglomerate’s knowledge or permission. Its premise is somewhat based upon the idea that a man spends a day at Disney with his family and slowly loses his shit. It is filled with hallucinations and disturbing visions, most of which go beyond the standard hallucinations and disturbing visions you’d see at Disney on any given day.
That sounds like enough for me to be very very excited, and to consider taking some edibles before the show. (SF)
9:00 p.m. The Spectacular Now (with special guests James Ponsoldt, Director and
Shailene Woodley, Actor)
Sunday, April 21
12 noon Not Yet Begun to Fight (with special guests Sabrina Lee, Producer/ Co-Director; Shasta Grenier, Co-Director/Editor; and Elliott Miller & Erik Goodge, Subjects