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Ebertfest 2017: Day Four, by Aaron Pinkston

27 Apr

I always have mixed emotions about Saturday at Ebertfest. It is the busiest day, with an extra matinee screening—and who would complain about more movies? But considering I’m already exhausted from the week, tired of eating garbage food for every meal and missing home, the end seems sweet. Thankfully, the festival will end with a bang for me, with two profile documentaries, a 90s fantasy well worth revisiting, and my first viewing of a Hal Ashby classic comedy.

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Czech That Film Tour 2017: I, Olga Hepnarova, by Dayne Linford

26 Apr

In July, 1973, Olga Hepnarová, then twenty-one years old, purposefully drove a truck into a crowd of pedestrians waiting for a tram. Eight were killed, and, two years later, Hepnarová was executed under the Communist government of Czechoslovakia for the crime. Though the Soviet state that she claimed to be enacting revenge upon has since passed, the bracing, random nature of her crime, and the method of its commission, ought to ring a bell to viewers remembering the slaughters in Nice in 2016 and Stockholm more recently. Her place as an isolated, queer outsider, might feel reminiscent of the Columbine shootings in Colorado in 1999. Indeed, the very fact of her mass killing stretches across the world and across our history, even, almost certainly, into the future.

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Ebertfest 2017: Day Three, by Aaron Pinkston

26 Apr

Whereas Day Two of the 2017 Roger Ebert’s Film Festival highlighted its aims to showcase the overlooked and underappreciated, Day Three showed off its diverse interests.

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Czech That Film Tour 2017: The Teacher, by Dayne Linford

26 Apr

Social systems have a tendency to self-replicate, and therefore self-reinforce, all the way down the ladder, forming a fractal pattern, a series of the same values and, often, the same abuses. Growing up in a capitalist system, children learn to be good little mini-businesspeople, trading candy at lunchtime and favors after school. Learning to exist according to class, the janitor’s kid soon knows to pay deference to his friend, the banker’s son. In fiction, it’s often these small-scale replications that are the most fruitful, the most intimate and powerful. Jan Hrebejk’s The Teacher is certainly one of these, the story of a small classroom in 1983 Czechoslovakia, dominated by a dictatorial teacher, who begins each school year by taking down the occupations of her student’s parents, a helpful guidebook for an extortion scheme revolving around petty favors rendered in exchange for good grades.

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Czech That Film Tour 2017: Tiger Theory, by Dayne Linford

25 Apr

I’ve always been a huge fan of the comedic subgenre surrounding the “battle of the sexes” – women and men pitted against each other, usually ending in a tempestuous and hilarious romance. Your standard romantic comedies are a derivation of what Shakespeare perfected, though they never seem to go quite far enough. To work, it must be an actual battle – that is, two equal, individualized forces pitted against each other. There’s more to Beatrice and Benedict than gender, and more to them together than alone. Many, many variations on this theme can be found throughout Western storytelling, of which Radek Bajgar’s Tiger Theory is another, sadly inferior take. Though well-written, often honestly funny, and well-acted throughout, Tiger Theory forgets the most important rule – we must be on both sides at once, or it’s boring.

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Czech That Film Tour 2017: Little From the Fish Shop, by Dayne Linford

24 Apr

It’s hard to think of a story as oft-told as that concerning the diminutive mermaid who wanted to be human. Even before Hans Christian Anderson found a way to assert that the mermaid would make it into heaven, the story was a well-known children’s tale, and there’s got to be scores of tellings under the auspices of Disney’s renditions alone. Despite all of that, there’s nothing I’ve seen that’s anywhere near as interesting, troubling, and moving a rendition as Jan Balej’s stop-motion animated take, Little from the Fish Shop.

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Ebertfest 2017: Day Two, by Aaron Pinkston

21 Apr

When the Roger Ebert’s Film Festival was formed in 1999 it was specifically meant to shine a light on a number of films that the prolific film critic saw throughout his years that didn’t get the recognition he thought they deserved. The then-named “Overlooked Film Festival” used this thesis to span tiny indies like Henry Bromell’s Panic, internationally acclaimed but little seen at their release films like Songs from the Second Floor, and minor entries in big filmographies like Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You. Over the years, that specific aim has shifted a bit, but there is always room in the schedule for a few underappreciated and overlooked—the second day of the 19th Ebertfest is a great example of this as it starts with two perfect examples of the festival’s spirit.

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Czech That Film Tour 2017: The Noonday Witch, by Dayne Linford

21 Apr

At their weakest, horror movies can be boiled down to one or two “gotcha” elements, thematic or environmental springboards which carry the weight of the vulnerabilities and anxieties supposedly expressed in the piece. TVs in The Ring, showers in Psycho; at their strongest, however, theme and environment are one and the same – the shower in Psycho is not scary because showers are vulnerable and scary, though they are. The shower in Psycho is scary because Norman Bates is scary, and Norman Bates has a key, and a peephole, to that shower. He has a way into our intimate places, and can expose and exploit our secret vulnerabilities. Unfortunately, The Noonday Witch is not one of these movies, and it hopes that the terror of a heat-induced mental breakdown will be enough. If it’s not enough for Psycho, it’s not enough for anybody.

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Czech That Film Tour 2017: The Snake Brothers, by Dayne Linford

20 Apr

In the myopia of one’s own life, staring down the barrel of whatever salve you use to get through the day, it’s hard to see the ways your life is shaped by the culture and society around you. Sometimes you never see past that barrel. Jan Prusinovský’s The Snake Brothers is a film about that kind of myopia, and one brother’s attempt to find some modicum of success in his middle-age despite the destructive presence of his younger brother and, though he never quite considers it, the cannibalistic nature of his own society and the people surrounding him.

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Ebertfest 2017: Opening Night, by Aaron Pinkston

20 Apr

The 19th annual Roger Ebert’s Film Festival is built on four key principles: empathy, compassion, kindness, and forgiveness. Even if not as explicitly, this has always been the mission of the festival, as was true of its namesake. Each year in Champaign, Illinois, the home of the main campus of the University of Illinois, Ebert’s alma mater, film lovers flock to celebrate films and carry out the legacy of the greatest film critic. This is now my sixth straight year covering the festival and it has become a part of my life. I unfortunately never got to experience the festival with Roger as the key figure (by 2012 the effects of his cancer had taken his ability to speak, and with that, his role in leading the film introductions and Q&As), but I’ve seen it grow past the “Overlooked Film Festival” of its roots to championing Ebert’s spirit. Since he passed a few short weeks before the festival in 2013, Ebertfest has embodied the man’s legacy with love and through those four principles that he looked for in every film that he loved. This year’s slate is as interesting as any I’ve attended, a mix of classics ready for a reevaluation and contemporaries that carry on what Ebert looked for in a great film.

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