Monday, May 07, 2012

Ebertfest wrap

OK, NOW to pick up where I left off with Ebertfest.

The first film of Friday, April 27 was On Borrowed Time, a documentary about filmmaker Paul Cox, the director who has been to Ebertfest most often. I was at a distinct disadvantage here, because I haven't seen a single film by the man. I will say the doc convinced me to rectify that, and I can see why Roger feels an affinity with Cox. Both men went through life-altering medical procedures, both came somewhat close to death - and most importantly, both men lived to tell about it.

Next up was something I've been lucky enough to enjoy in the past: live musical accompaniment to silent film. But I'd never done it quite this way - through a series of delightfully bizarre film shorts. I could have sworn one of the shorts was by Georges Melies, made famous lately by Scorsese's Hugo. It turned out not to be, it was actually by a Mexican filmmaker who closely emulated Melies' techniques. Another short was a cartoon by Winsor McCay, who was famous for Gertie the dinosaur.


Now, we didn't get to see Gertie, but we saw a very similar creature in Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend: The Pet. And this fella had an even bigger appetite than Gertie.



I could not do justice to the weirdness of the other shorts. What I tweeted was this: You simply have not lived until you have seen a silent animated short with Mr. and Mrs. Beetle & a grasshopper cameraman.

Wrapping up the evening was A Seperation, this year's Best Foreign Language film, which I had already seen and indeed put on my ten best list. Now I think I didn't put it high enough. Michael Barker, of Sony Pictures Classics, called it "a perfect film," and he's very nearly correct. Though it's steeped in Iranian culture, the film's humanity speaks volumes. The best new film of Ebertfest.

Saturday began with Higher Ground, a film starring and directed by Vera Farmiga. It was based on a memoir by Carolyn Briggs, who was in attendance. At first, the film seems to celebrate holy roller culture, but it's much cannier than that. It shows how religion can be both fulfilling and stultifying. Too many movies emphasize one over the other; it was refreshing to find a film that embraced both viewpoints.

Next up was Patang, centering around a large kite festival in India. The film is pictorially lovely but narratively wispy; the story simply did not stay with me. Quite honestly, it was much more interesting when the projectionists had to restart the film to adjust the mattes because subtitles were being cut off. I the interim, director Prashant Bhargarva freestyled an Indian rap.

Wrapping up the penultimate day was Take Shelter, another film I am now convinced I did not rate highly enough. More than many other movies, Take Shelter is better seen than read about, so I'm not going to try to describe it, but I can promise you'll be talking about the ending for a very long time. Director Jeff Nichols was there, along with the brilliant actor Michael Shannon. Alas, the lovely Jessica Chastain was not present, so it was a good thing I didn't bring flowers. The Q&A with Shannon and Nichols was fabulous in itself, especially when Shannon cracked that he and Nichols had similar assess. You can view it and all the other panels here.

You may note that I said A Seperation was the best new film of the best. That's because they saved the very best for last: Citizen Kane. But it wasn't just any showing of Kane. It was played with Roger's illuminating commentary track, so this was the first time his voice filled the Virigina Theatre since he lost the ability to speak. Afterwards, Roger's wife Chaz came out, her eyes filled with tears. She had never actually sat down and listened to her husband's commentary until that very day. Hearing his voice again, talking about a film he so loves, was deeply moving for her and for us, though I'm sure many of us had heard the commentary before.

I will wrap by saying that too many film buffs I know dont see what all the fuss is about in Kane. Any self-respecting film fan owes it to themselves to see it with new eyes by listening to Roger's commentary. Once you've heard the many things he has to say, I am confident you'll see (and hear) what you've been missing. Because that's what any great film experience does - it makes the movies better.

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