Smile Politely

It’s a wrap: Ebertfest 11 summary

Past Ebertfests may have screened some better individual movies, but I can’t remember a festival where the movies flowed together so well. This year’s films were shards of light from the same prism, each a different reflection on the theme of loss and survival. The losses were sometimes gradual over time and sometimes devastatingly sudden. The survival was often gritty, and not always particularly redemptive. But the fact of survival offers at least some measure of hope.

So, there wasn’t a lot of happy inspiration this year. But as Roger himself has said “No good movie is depressing; all bad movies are depressing.” I would add that no Ebertfest is depressing. Providing an atmosphere of film celebration for five short days a year is always a too-short, savory experience.

Ebertfest movie reviews will continue to trickle this week at Smile Politely, but here’s a quick fly-by summary of each film of Ebertfest 2009, and how each contributed to the overall theme:

  • Woodstock. Documents the loss of squareness and hygiene over a 3 day period by 400,000 people. Grooviness survives, despite lack of food and water and no easy way to leave the premises.
  • My Winnipeg. Guy Maddin’s entertaining take on his childhood and how Winnipeg has abandoned many of its social institutions. Maddin survives his childhood (and Winnipeg), but is trapped in a meditative voice-over.
  • Chop Shop. Two immigrant teenagers scrape out a living under the shadow of Shea Stadium, doing what it takes to stay together. On a side note, my 10 year-old son looks a little like Alejandro, the main protagonist, and was asked by a festivalgoer if he was the kid in the movie. He said no, but then sold her some stolen DVDs and candy.
  • Trouble the Water. Kim and Scott Roberts survive Katrina and shoot video from inside New Orleans. The Roberts lost their house and stuff, but find that survival in a larger sense sometimes depends on reaching out to others.
  • Begging Naked. Amazing story of an artist who becomes a prostitute and later homeless, all before our eyes over a decade of videotape. The transformation is spellbinding. I know at least two people whose story this could easily be. It seems like a small thing to take care of certain people at the right time in their lives, and yet it can make all the difference. A stark reminder that even in this age of relative abundance, many do not have safety nets.
  • The Last Command. I sent my 10 year-old son to this one in my place. He reports that it was good, but could not explain why. I think it’s because his aunt loaded him up with candy.
  • Frozen River. One woman in dire financial straits meets a Native American woman who has lost the rights to her son. One thing leads to another and they eventually begin to smuggle immigrants across the Canadian border for money. One of my favorite movies during this festival. Misty Upham talked during the Q and A about having to continually “wear feathers” to get acting jobs as a Native American. On Sunday, I saw someone wearing a “Chief” shirt. Sigh.
  • The Fall. Enchanting film, delicious to the eye. A paralyzed man who lost his love tells a story to a sweet little girl. At times hilarious and at times heartbreaking. This was also one of my favorite films this festival.
  • Sita Sings the Blues. Sita loses Rama. Nina loses “Dave.” Nina survives, partly by listening to Annette Hanshaw, partly by making a movie. Nina can’t afford to show movie to anyone because corporations demand copyright payment for 1920s era recordings. Same recordings of which they destroyed the masters for scrap. Nina discovers Creative Commons License. Nina shows film to happy audiences.
  • Nothing But the Truth. Reporter prints state secrets and goes to jail to protect source. The Powers abuse her, but 1st Amendment survives another day, kind of, for now.
  • Let the Right One In. Your standard Boy meets Girl, Boy likes Girl, Girl is Vampire movie. Or should be the standard, now and forever more. This is the movie that has stuck with me the most since the festival ended. It also has an interesting twist on the myth of redemptive violence, which is that violence saves us from evil (whereas in reality, violence usually begets violence which begets more violence and so on and so forth). This film teaches us that if you engage in that kind of thing, make sure you have a vampire on your side.
  • Baraka. The earth is beautiful and we are beautiful. Well, some of us are beautiful. Some of us are polluting it and destroying it. I found the homelessness of Baraka an interesting counterpoint to that of Begging Naked or Chop Shop. The latter provides the individual stories of specific people and how they become homeless, and Baraka shows the existence of homelessness as a general indictment of humankind. How can we as a species let this happen in a world so abundantly rich with life and resources?

So, was this the best Ebertfest ever? Of course it was. Just like every other Ebertfest was the best ever, and every festival after this will be the best ever. It’s like the Olympics that way. It’s the best because it just happened, and we love things that just happened.

So, see you next year, at that next-best-Ebertfest ever, jostling in line, running for our seats, straining our personal relationships, and enjoying every minute of it.


Smile Politely’s complete Ebertfest 11 2009 coverage:

Ebertfest Day 1: Groovy, man
Ebertfest Day 2
Ebertfest Day 3: of poignancy, rumbles, and tattoo imposters
Ebertfest Day 4: Vishnu and vampires and reporters, oh my!
Ebertfest Day 5: Noncommittal filmmakers and one fan’s overview
Escapism of the finest sort at Ebertfest
Rod Lurie chats with Chuck Koplinski
Exclusive interview with Karen Gehres’, director of Begging Naked
Saturday night at Ebertfest: What kept you so long?


Plus, Ebertfest previews:

Ebertfest 11 preview
A few fine Ebertfest moments
Copyrighting away culture: An interview with Nina Paley
The triumphant return of Nina Paley

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