This year’s Ebertfest was as bittersweet as I thought it would be. Our hostess, Chaz Ebert, was gracious and eloquent as she talked about Roger’s choices and what he would be thinking or feeling about the festival had he been there. She has this fantastic ability to make us laugh while breaking our hearts at the same time. I love that woman.
I’ve attended this festival every year that I’ve lived in C-U, some years seeing just one or two films, and other years hauling my butt to every one of them. This year, I was only able to attend four films, and, as usual, I loved some parts of the experience and hated others.
Chaz, of course.
The friendly volunteers.
Watching the audience sing Roger’s adaptation of Those Were the Days.
The films (Days of Heaven, I Remember, In the Family, Bernie).
The panel discussion with Patrick Wang and Trevor St John, following In the Family.
Hearing both my spouse and my publisher laugh at all the same jokes during Bernie.
The shockingly delicious red beans and rice and cornbread from the food tent.
Throwing nutrition out the window (as I do every year) and eating an entire bag of Sour Gummies.
Chaz, Chaz, Chaz.
The rain. The fucking cold, dreary, relentless rain. Every year. Every damn year, I have to stand in the godforsaken cold rain if I want to attend this festival.
The uncomfortable seating. I’m only 5’6”. Sure, that might be a bit tall for a girl, but I’m no giant. But my knees touch the seat in front of me. And we’re sitting in these seats for hours. I can’t imagine what men go through.
The people: the talkers, the noisy eaters (Open your candy before the film starts. Close your lips before you chew your popcorn!), the Tiny Bladders, the cell phone users.
The rain.~~Tracy Nectoux
This is a short film that played before Days of Heaven. In it, we see a woman who is all but catatonic from the grief of losing a loved one. Though the film is only a few minutes long, it takes its time telling its story. Lily Huang is beautiful and tragic as the devastated woman, mourning her partner. We are pulled into her memories, images that repeatedly crash into her like the ocean’s waves — the last experience she had with him. She’s so helpless to fight her grief that I became afraid that we’d lose her too. This film has no reconciliation. It was extremely hard to sit through, and I never want to again.~~Tracy Nectoux
Days of Heaven
I admit that after reading Mathew’s preview and Roger’s review I expected to enjoy this film more than I did. Yes, it is gorgeous. Almost overwhelmingly so. Somehow cinematographer Haskell Wexler and that other guy managed to make even a horrific pestilence look beautiful. But I wasn’t expecting loose ends, interrupted conversation (when we got conversation at all), and all the characters’ mumbling that I had to strain to understand. I felt that the story had been neglected. But in the days following, my mind kept returning to this film. I got past all of my issues and began appreciating it more and more. I think that I might have focused too much on the sight and sounds (the score, which is magnificent, doesn’t get mentioned nearly enough) of the film and not enough on Linda. Since Wednesday, I’ve often returned to her and her descriptions of her surroundings and the adults in her life. Linda has stayed with me even more than the film’s perfect cinematography.~~Tracy Nectoux
Because of the day and time that this movie was showing, I didn’t expect a large crowd, but I was wrong. The theatre was packed and it was gratifying to see. It was also great to witness the crowd’s angry response to the injustice taking place in the film. There was audible gasps and grumbling, especially during the “family only” hospital scene. I don’t know how much of the audience was made up of my community, but I don’t think it matters. Bigotry is bigotry and it’s hard to watch, period.
I’ve already discussed this film, so I’ll just say that if you missed it, I truly encourage you to rent it when it comes out on DVD. During the panel discussion, Mr. Wang gave a date for the DVD release, but I’ll be damned if I can remember it. Keep your eye out for this film that Roger called “courageous” and said completely absorbed him “from beginning to end.”~~Tracy Nectoux
I don’t usually seek comedies out. I knew nothing about Bernie. I was only there because my spouse wanted to see it. I was hooked before the opening scene was over. As I watched Bernie sing “Love Lifted Me,” I thought, “If this is meant to manipulate me into liking this guy, it’s worked beautifully.” And we soon learn that the entire town of Carthage, Texas, has been manipulated to do the same, even the most hateful, cynical, suspicious of its citizens. So when Bernie commits his crime, none of us mind much. I kept thinking, “Use the insanity defense! You’ll get off!”
Jack Black is perfect in this movie. Linklater is fast becoming one of my favorite filmmakers. Having now seen this as well as School of Rock, Black and Linklater have proven themselves to be a perfect artistic combination.~~Tracy Nectoux
Oslo, August 31st
If you had a chance to see this film and didn’t then I’m afraid you missed out. I already expressed some of my thoughts on this one in the Ebertfest preview. I wasn’t able to make it to Ebertfest on a weekday to see it again, so I’ll just say, watch it on Netflix.~~Jeremiah Stanley
I had seen the film before Friday night and written about it last week in the Ebertfest preview, so I won’t rehash all of that. I will say that I was talking to a fellow film fan and critic Friday who said to me, “You hate [Tilda Swinton] in it.” I had to respectfully disagree. Sure, I find Julia a very unlikable and terrible person, but things are not often that black-and-white to me. Julia is a complicated character on the cusp of doing something right and just, but she brushes it off, pushes it away, and drowns it in alcohol. She’s the type of character I like to see on screen — she’s struggling and may never evolve — and it’s a whole lot of fun to watch that internal struggle play out.
The Q&A following was somewhat lackluster. Swinton was funny, charming, and articulate and I was not disappointed; however, I really think the experience would have benefited from having a known film critic on stage with her, of either local or national reknown. I would enjoy some more thoughtful preparation, especially to engage an artist of Tilda Swinton’s calibur; Hell, it doesn’t even have to be me— though that would be awesome and I would do it—but take your pick: Chuck Koplinski or Melissa Merli (The News-Gazette), Connie Hosier (WEFT), Austin McCann (Art Theater), Jason Pankoke (C-U Confidential), Luke Boyce (Shatterglass), or half a dozen people I can think of from Smile Politely. It’s not that it was bad, per se. It’s that it could have been so much better.
Thankfully, Tilda had some great things to say and she gave thoughtful commentary about all the “noise” that we have nowadays with media and social media, and about the state of the British Film Industry and its lack of resources and filmmakers (who are all there, but actually just working as baristas). She’s inspiring, whether she is a real actor or the “clown” that she considers herself to be, and that makes me feel good about loving her work.~~Jeremiah Stanley
I didn’t make it to see this film at Ebertfest (I had to make an appearance at Record Store Day), but I hear I missed out on a room full of dancing with Tilda Swinton beforehand. The film is great, as I said in the preview, and I hope people seek it out. I’m sure it looked a lot more beautiful on screen at the Virginia than it did on my laptop. I’m curious to know what director Pablo Berger had to say.~~Jeremiah Stanley
This was my second viewing of this one too. I became more aware during this film — more so than during the other screenings I attended at Ebertfest — of how different a film experience is from home to theatre. Films are inherently a communal experience, in my opinion, and that’s what generally makes them so much more accessible than books these days.
When I watched this at home, I felt a major shift during the film, from gag to transformative experience. I still felt the same thing this time around and I was still nervous about the big “unveiling” in the film, but I wasn’t able to feel as deeply at times due to the laughter that filled The Virginia. Sure, there’s a fine line between comedy and tragedy; it’s just that I wanted to embrace the depth and emotion more fully in particular instances of this film, and it was difficult to do so when things were handled with a chuckle. This film goes deeper. Director and Actor (as Kumaré) Vikram Gandhi said, “Even in people’s flaws you learn something.” I’d say you often learn more, you know, that old cliché about learning from mistakes.
Gandhi and Producer Stephen Feder (a University of Illinois graduate) had some interesting insight (and there were some more thoughtful questions) about the ethics of the film and about culture and heritage. Gandhi said that Indians have had an interesting history in America, starting as part of the background, and evolving to part of the solution, to the problem, all “depending on facial hair configurations.” The film is a fascinating look at some of those ideas and a worthwhile exploration of truth versus illusion, belief, and perceptions. We ended with a meditative visualization of our blue light and a “Kumaré” chant which, I have to admit, was a lot of fun.~~Jeremiah Stanley
Escape From Tomorrow
I’ll decide how I really feel about this film someday, perhaps, if I get a chance to see it a second time. My initial reaction was on the negative side, but I’m not done processing it. It’s growing on me. I wish I could watch it again right now. Writer and Director Randy Moore said that the film was kept under wrap, even during a two-year post-production period in South Korea. Moore said he went from 215 pounds to 168 during the nerve-wracking process, which required stealth in filming (hidden microphones and using trashcans as makeshift tripods). This one felt like something I would have seen at the New Art Film Festival a week prior, but it will stick with me for some time, for better or worse. There has been a bunch of buzz surrounding the film since its Sundance premier, but so much is up in the air right now with distribution and the fear of the Disney machine. It’s difficult to say what happens next. It’s a daring and unique film, unsettling at times to watch and, I imagine, to create. Kudos to the cast and crew here for being fearless. Watch it and judge for yourself if you have the chance.~~Jeremiah Stanley
The Spectacular Now
Director James Ponsoldt was referred to on stage as a “warrior of truth” and a young master of the Sundance Film Festival (this marks his third film and third experience with Sundance acclaim). I can’t think of another film, in recent memory, that has struck such a personal chord. I don’t want to go into the details, but I can relate to its approach to alcoholism, fear, truth, and identity. It’s a great story (adapted by Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter from a Tim Tharp novel), with excellent actors cast in the right roles (lead actors Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, with support from Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Brie Larson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Bob Odenkirk), and it makes no attempt to judge its characters or subject. Most of the post-discussion was about how “real” the high school characters felt and the authenticity of the film, which was probably difficult for some (especially parents) to handle, but Ponsoldt and Woodley were articulate and engaging to listen to and watch on stage.
The film was also spectacularly efficient in its editing process to get it from the end of filming in August to a Sundance premier in January. Look for this film in theaters (maybe at the Art???) this summer.~~Jeremiah Stanley
If you’re interested in the films, you can watch Days of Heaven, Bernie, Kumaré, and Oslo, August 31st on Netflix. You can rent Julia at That’s Rentertainment.
cover marquee photo by Jeremiah Stanley
nighttime marquee photo by Justine Bursoni