I know I just did a 10 Word Review about Roger Ebert‘s Film Festival otherwise known as Ebertfest, but even though I put down those words I still feel there’s more to say. Now, sitting here, it’s sort of tough to put what I think I want to say in words so bear with me.
Attending this festival for the second time was even more amazing than the first. It’s not just seeing these films, most of which I’ve never seen before, that challenge the edges of what I would normally watch. It’s the atmosphere. It’s being in the company of people who are of like mind about art and film and community. It’s feeling like you are a lucky participant in something very very special.
This year, given the fact Roger passed away only a couple of weeks before the festival, it was an even more humbled and emotional experience. Every person who spoke on stage said how much this man was obviously not only a great writer, but so generous of spirit, so kind to new film makers and old alike, so enthusiastic about the meaning of film and the way a film should be watched. Each told stories about Roger and mentioned, in some way, his impact on their lives and careers. There were wonderful tributes to him told in words and fittingly, in film. Chaz, his wife of many many years, was there. A woman full of heart and grace, much like her husband.
I loved this experience, as I did last year, and I loved the films as well. As I said earlier, they pushed the boundaries of what I would normally choose to watch, which is a wonderful thing. There’s no way, under the normal circumstances of my life, I would’ve chosen to see a movie like The Ballad of Narayama (1958), yet there I was, watching it and more than that, enjoying it for the shocking story, the color, for the Kabuki style I’m not all that familiar with. It’s the beauty of this festival for me and so many others I’m sure. This seeing something I wouldn’t normally see, or even know about. This pushing my own viewer boundaries. And I think, without being presumptuous, it’s what Roger probably intended when he created this festival in the first place. To have a festival of overlooked films. Films that because of their beauty, or story, or style, or imagination, or brashness shouldn’t have been overlooked. There’s no buying or selling or submissions for this festival. It’s a festival purely for the love and joy of film. Which I think adds to the festivals character and feeling of community. People come because they love film, they love their community, and they love the experience of it. They come because they love stepping into the beautiful world Ebertfest creates.
I loved this experience. Loved it. At the end of the day it’s exhausting, seeing so many films in so many days, but I loved it. I loved having to stand in line early so that when the doors opened the 1000 pass holders could all rush in and try to find the perfect seats. I loved the restoration of the Virginia, which is where Roger used to see movies as a kid. I loved sitting near people I don’t know and chatting with them about film and park district stuff and popcorn. I loved watching and listening to people interact and commune. I loved getting my Virginia Theater travel mug that I could then bring every day to get however much coffee I wanted, free refills are always good. And this was good coffee, from the roasting house we frequent normally who also happens to be a sponsor of the festival. I loved the dance along, the sing a long, and just plain going along on this rid of a fest. I loved hearing and reading Roger’s words and listening to the panel discussions, those we attended but also online for those we didn’t, after the films. I loved being in the company of my honey and of Ann. I loved the salads and eggplant fries we had each evening during our dinner break at Guidos. I loved how good this festival was for the community given all the people that descend to participate and then spend money at restaurants and hotels, etc. I loved the beauty of the surroundings of the lovely lovely park district owned Virginia Theater. What a gorgeous building and so big with it’s 1600 seats, an organ that descends into the orchestra pit when the organist is done playing, lovely plaster work, stained glass, and an enormous screen that really does a film justice.
I guess, not having had the words in the beginning, I found them. This experience, without sounding trite, is transcendent. It inspires and makes the world larger. Which, to me, is the best of what can and should happen. It connects and brings joy. It expands ones mind and consequently, ones heart.
Lastly, and less emotionally, I guess I should let everyone know which films we enjoyed the most as, after all, it was a film festival… Tam loved In The Family, a film that hit close to home and was so beautifully and sweetly done it exuded a warmth and light that was wonderful to feel and behold. Karen loved Julia, a movie so hard hitting and raw it gripped you from the beginning and never let you go. We both didn’t like Escape From Tomorrow, a strange and uncomfortable film we didn’t understand, nor did we really want to understand. As honorable mention for a film I liked I’d like to add the short I Remember, which I found to be full of beautiful images and emotion.
I’m so glad we attended the festival again this year and I hope, even with Roger’s passing, this festival continues and we can go again next year. I’m already looking forward to it.