Over the past few months, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to speak with several people involved in making local film festivals happen. But considering that the twelfth annual Roger Ebert’s Ebertfest begins this week, it might be a good time to reveal that Ebertfest was the first film festival I attended, and I was a newbie only last year.
Here are my suggestions for making the most of the event this week:
1. Go to one or more academic panels at the Illini Union, 1401 W. Green Street, Urbana.
Last year I attended two: “Movie Making & Distribution in Times of Turmoil” and “Movies & Everyday Life.” I went to the first (on distribution) partially in hopes that they might discuss the model for web series such as The Guild. Although the panel didn’t quite go that route, it was still a very insightful and informative look at independent filmmaking. Attendees also had the opportunity to ask questions of the panelists.
This year, Ebertfest academic panels include “Getting the Damned Thing Made” on Thursday morning, “Do Film Students Really Need To Know Much about Classic Films?” and “The Global Web of Film Lovers” on Friday morning, and “An Amateur Guide to No Budget Filmmaking” on Saturday. Thursday and Friday’s panels will be in the Pine Lounge, and Saturday’s will be in the general lounge on the Union’s second floor.
2. Stay for the discussion with filmmaker guests after the movie screening(s).
It’s a little like the behind-the-scenes peek you get from watching the commentary and featurettes on a DVD, but it’s more dynamic. Last year after the screening of The Fall, the charming young Catinca Untaru, one of the film’s leads, shared her experiences making the movie a few years previously. The Ebertfest site lists the individuals who plan to be present this year.
3. Cherish the opportunity to see a movie that may not be exactly mainstream.
For example, last year I saw Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in) — the real Scandinavian version. In addition to the cool factor of Oskar and Eli communicating through Morse code, the film was both gripping and subtle. And because I had seen the movie, I had an opinion when it came up in conversation later that summer.
Just because the movie you want to watch might be sold out now, doesn’t mean you won’t get to see it. According to the festival’s official Web site explains, “Go to the Virginia Theatre Box Office 30 minutes before screening time and wait in the rush ticket line. Shortly before the film begins, any empty seats will be sold on a first-come first-served basis. NOTE: At every festival since 2002, all patrons waiting in line for tickets for sold out films were able to get in.”
Often we attend movies in a darkened theater or secluded in our individual living rooms-which, for the record, I have nothing against. But each one of us interprets life through the films we view and discuss, and film festivals give us an opportunity to gather, connect, learn, and celebrate together. If you’ve never been to Ebertfest or you want to get more out of it this year, it’s not too late to make plans now.