Smile Politely

Ebertfest Day 2: The Aftermath

7:48 Decide to go ahead and get up to face another pointless, lonely, depressing day of life, despite head being filled with last night’s double header of Pink Floyd ,The Wall and You, the Living

 On the drive to school, my daughters are unimpressed with my recount of woeful tales that depict war, pestilence, depression, greed, selfishness, loneliness, drug addiction, fascism and joyless sex.  They see most of those things every day at school. Make mental note that I must drag them to I Capture the Castle on Saturday to restore our faith in humanity.

9::35  Attend my first ever panel session at Ebertfest.  I’m usually too busy standing in line at the Virginia or frantically blogging at home. But my wife needed a ride to campus, so I take advantage of scheduling serendipity.

9:40 The panel assembles at the Union:  Getting the Damn Thing Made.  This should be especially interesting, as I was peripherally involved in an indie film shot last summer in Champaign-Urbana, and now have a small sense of how hard it is to get a film made.

I learn at the panel that being in the studio system is not unlike being in the mafia. Unsurprisingly, this comes from Michael Tolkin, who wrote The Player. On the indie side, financing involves a lot of credits cards and investors who are not necessarily expecting to get all their money back.  In former days, these were called patrons of the arts.

Overall, there is lots of angst on the panel that even after the Marvel catalogue is exhausted as a movie source, there will still be an infinite supply of video games and new graphic novels to produce movies about half-humans and half-machines.  Charlie Kaufman says it doesn’t matter, because he tried to create a new superhero in a script he is writing, but found that there is no combination of names and abilities that Marvel has not already thought of and copyrighted.

10:07 Have to tear myself away from the panel if I hope to get a decent seat at the Virginia. I console myself that I’ll see all these filmmakers on stage again later in the festival.

10:35 Arrive at the Virginia. Line stretches down Randolph but has not turned corner to University yet.  Not bad. Talk to a first-time Ebertfester from Denver. People waiting in line this early are invariably either from out of town or fanatical.  Sometimes both. But the guy from Denver seems pretty normal.

11:07 Get decent seats on main floor in the back.  Settle in for some movies. We are here to see the movies, right?

12:06 Chaz comes onstage and announces that actor Bill Nighy is the latest victim of the Icelandic volcano, and is unable to get here in time for his Saturday film.The audience responds with wailing and knashing of teeth, as we are the real victims here.

12:11 Chaz butters us up by saying how impressed the illuminati are with the audience and our love of being challenged by Roger’s selections.  We collectively puff out our chests and nod importantly.

12:15ish The second short of the festival is shown, a concert version of “One Love” by Playing for Change. Not as cool as the street version of “Stand By Me,” but still good.

12:18ish Munyurangabo is screened. It tells the story of two Rwandan teenage boys on a journey who stop at one of their parents’ village. It starts out as a tiny story about two boys and ends as an object lesson for all of Rwanda. It has important things to say about the pull of family and culture and the toxic mix of revenge and violence.

In fact, it reminded me somewhat of Shotgun Stories (a previous Ebertfest film from another Arkansas director) in its subtlety, its care for place, and especially its message about violence.  Shotgun Stories was about redneck clans with rifles, but I suppose you could describe Rwanda as two clans going after each other with machetes instead of shotguns, except on a massive scale.

In the discussion afterward, we learn that the film was shot in 11 days in Rwanda. It started out because direction Lee Isaac Chung’s wife was going to Rwanda on a volunteer service trip and he needed to do something useful while there.  He succeeded.

Munyurangabo is easily the find of Ebertfest so far. I had no idea what the lead character was going to do at the end, and neither should you. Rent this movie if you were not there yesterday. Rent it and see it again if you were.

11:30 Like last year, I miss Warren York on the organ, playing happy festival music. I hear through the Ebertfest grapevine that he is now in very poor health and unlikely to return. Best wishes to Warren and his family.

3:08 Michael Tolkin introduces his movie The New Age. He announces to the full house:  “This now doubles the number of people who saw this movie in its first release.”

The New Age is about the Witners, a couple who lose their income during the economic downturn in the early 90s. They are smart and funny and as likeable as two smarmy, self-obsessed people can be, but they lack any ability to be introspective. They try various New Age fixes and various shallow resolutions to their problems. They also find that all they really have in common is a love of money and shopping.

It is impressive how the Witners can be such dead-on metaphors for US culture, 15 years before our most recent economic collapse.  We are collectively guilty of trying to solve our problems and find meaning with shopping and talk and quick, shallow solutions. Maybe as a culture we will learn something from this latest disaster, but I wouldn’t bet good money on it.

5:30 Dinner at KO Fusion with a good friend.  Sushi and Ebertfest are a good combination. I guess some problems (such as hunger) can be solved with expensive meals.

7:50 I get a text from Dave Ward, friend and former copy editor at Smile Politely, saying he can’t make it to Apocalpyse Now Redux, and could I please take a video of it on my cell phone for him. I want to, but getting taken away in handcuffs from the Virginia for illegally copying the movie would ruin my entire Ebertfest.

8:05 Chaz tells us about a couple that met in Roger’s film class and got married and another couple that met at Ebertfest and got married and yet another (or maybe it’s the second couple) that “conceived a child at Ebertfest.”  I think I sat near them that year. 

8:15ish Apocalypse Now Redux starts and fills the theater with The Doors and napalm. This is how to see this movie.

In fact, this experience makes a good case for nurture over nature, or environment over heredity.  If you take a film with the exact same genetic makeup as this one and put it in my living room and watch it alone a few years ago, it becomes a good reason to dislike director’s cuts of movies because they seem unable to leave anything on the cutting room floor.

However, put in the Virginia with an adoring Ebertfest audience (chests out, everyone), it may still be 45 minutes too long, but all is forgiven as you float down the river, awaiting The End.

What surprised me this time around was how much the images in this movie are now part of my subconscious. I still can’t take a boat ride down a river without thinking that Vietnamese might be on the other side of the trees. Certain hotel rooms remind me to be thankful I’m not about to get a call to assassinate someone.  I’m sure I would not be able to storm a beach without fondly recalling the smell of napalm.

One of the panelists said the film was” terror and grandeur.” Exactly.

In thinking about all the films today, I think what ties them together is “aftermath.”  Which choices should we make in the aftermath of a massacre? A financial crisis? After a decade of wasted war? The films today gave us glimpses that those choices matter a great deal, and that sometimes we are willing to make hard choices, and other times we are not.

12:25 Finally roll into bed. It was a good choice to leave the house today after all.  We’ll see about tomorrow.

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