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Ebertfest: Day Two, by Aaron Pinkston

20 Apr


A little behind-the-scenes: This year, instead of making the couple mile commute to and from my hotel and the Virginia Theatre, I rented an apartment two blocks away for the week. So far, it makes the experience so much more comfortable. In this vein, I made an executive decision to forego the panel discussions that happen each day in exchange for more relaxation. Overall, the panels are decent, but don’t delve into their topics quite to my liking, despite being made up of intelligent and interesting film writers and filmmakers. I also decided to take the time spent by the post-screening Q&As (because we know nothing good really ever comes from them) to spend more quality time with my wife and two dogs, who made the trip for the first time this year. Theoretically, this should also give me good time to write up my coverage in a more timely manner, though that already doesn’t seem to be the case.


Ebertfest 2015: Opening Night, by Aaron Pinkston

17 Apr


Another year, another Ebertfest! I have now attended and covered four straight festivals, and thus have written four introductions that described my history with the festival and the history of the festival itself. So, why don’t I skip all that and just get to the basics? The Roger Ebert Film Festival is held each year at the home of the University of Illinois (both my and Ebert’s alma mater). In this 17th edition of the festival a lot has remained unchanged – it is a small festival of 12 films stretched over five days at one singular location, the beautiful Virginia Theatre. In this third festival after the loss of the great critic, it seems that the festival is finally finding its legacy going forward. It has always been a celebration of films, and that hasn’t changed, but eventually it would have to move on from being a curated list of its namesake’s favorite films. This year more than any other feels like a festival molded in his spirit. Ebert would have seen only three of this year’s selections, but their intelligence, humor, and humanity are in line with what the man championed. The course of the festival will see Ebertfest favorites return with new films, some of the best international films of the past year, the amazing Alloy Orchestra, and a tribute to another recently lost film icon.


Ebertfest 2014: Day Four, by Aaron Pinkston

9 May


Saturday at Roger Ebert’s Film Festival is the most jam-packed day, with four screenings and filmmaker Q&As over more than 12 hours, so (to borrow a phrase) let’s get into it shall we?


Ebertfest 2014: Day Three, by Aaron Pinkston

2 May


Taking a look at the Ebertfest schedule in advance, day three was without question what I was looking forward to the most. Featuring two classic films I had never seen before and one I hadn’t seen in years, this day felt very much in the festival’s spirit. These three films (He Who Gets Slapped, Capote and Do the Right Thing) provide three different takes on outsiders that nearly spans the entire history of filmmaking. Society often spurns people because of their background, mistakes, skin color, socioeconomic status, and these three films discusses the fringes of society in wildly different styles and plots. Two of these films focus on the anger and potential violence that can come when a person or a group are relegated as second-class citizens, while the third may provide a bit of redemption. It isn’t always a requirement to place films with similar themes together (and this isn’t exactly an obvious one), but when there is a through-line during a day’s screenings, it always feels a little more special. Also, personally, with only three screenings, day three also allowed me to sleep in a little, forego the morning’s panels and relax — maybe I’m just getting old, but staying up past midnight takes a toll on me.


Ebertfest 2014: Day Two, by Aaron Pinkston

28 Apr


The first full day of Ebertfest didn’t start off too well for me, when the campus parking lot that I typically use (because it takes credit cards) suddenly didn’t exist. So, I spent time away from the first academic panel of the day getting cash, getting change, finding a meter spot and later refilling the meter. Thank you, University of Illinois for getting rid of a convenient parking lot without offering an alternative that was similarly convenient. End rant. Anywho, this surprise runaround didn’t exactly have me in the best of moods when I rolled into the first of two morning panels for the day.

The academic panels at each Ebertfest give festivalgoers a great opportunity to discuss important topics with filmmakers, critics, industry folks and academics from the impressive list of guests that come each year. One of the greatest aspects of the festival is the incredible access to year’s guests — it isn’t unusual to just bump into the likes of Tilda Swinton, Brie Larson or (for the nerdier festivalgoers) David Bordwell. The mood set around the festival each year is incredibly inclusive and comfortable, different from just about any film festival experience you could hope to have.


Ebertfest 2014: Opening Night, by Aaron Pinkston

25 Apr


In her opening statements, Chaz Ebert, the face and soul of the Roger Ebert’s Film Festival, told a brief story about the unveiling of Roger’s statue, which is happening on the second day of this year’s festival. Roger and Chaz’s long-time friend decided to make it her mission to make the memorial come to fruition despite her own serious health problems. She approached talented artist Rick Harney, who is known for statues of other great sons of Illinois, Abraham Lincoln and Adlai Stevenson. Though he wasn’t currently taking any commissions, when he heard this project was for the late film critic, he jumped at the job. It turns out, Harney had a special love for Ebert’s work, as many of us do. For Harney, Ebert’s reviews were a way for him to connect with his autistic son. The work allowed them to have serious and insightful discussions on film together — a hallmark of Ebert’s legacy and a major reason why thousands of people from across the world travel to Champaign, Illinois each April, for the past 16 years. This story shows the incredible reach Roger Ebert had, not just as a film critic, but as a person.


Ebertfest 2013 Day Four, by Aaron Pinkston

26 Apr


After two long days and an earlier start for the fourth day of the 2013 Roger Ebert Film Festival, Tilda Swinton had a plan. By this point, I’m sure you’ve read about the events or seen the video but there probably wasn’t anything like being there. Unexpectedly, just before the start time for the day’s first film, Chaz came out with an announcement: that everyone needed to get on their feet and dance with Tilda. At first it seemed silly (and, OK, it kinda was), but as soon as Barry White began blasting over the speakers and Tilda started running through the crowd, there was definitely something infectious about it all. Ebertfest is one of the few places where something like this can go down without any cynicism or hesitancy coming from the crowd and that’s partly what makes this event so spectacular. The Ebertfest audience approaches their impromptu dance parties like they do their films, willing to have a little faith and go along for the ride.


Ebertfest 2013: Day Three, by Aaron Pinkston

25 Apr


If it hadn’t already become clear that loss was particularly on the mind of the 2013 Roger Ebert Film Festival schedule, the third day sealed that thought. Obviously, the recent loss of Roger was already on the minds of all 1,500+ patrons of the Virginia Theater, but the film selections (with a few exceptions) really took a bittersweet tone throughout the entire week. During the festival, Chaz Ebert noted that Roger knew that his involvement at the festival would be minimal this year — though he hoped he would be able to stick it out and attend one more festival, it was unlikely, and he had come to terms with that. With this in mind, Roger’s specific selections for the festival become pretty telling and significant. By focusing on many films that deal directly with loss in all forms, he may have been conditioning us to deal with his absence and find the strength to get by it.


Ebertfest 2013: Day Two, by Aaron Pinkston

22 Apr


The second day of Ebertfest is when things get busy — instead of one screening, the day’s schedule is pretty full, with three screenings and two morning panels (basically a 9-to-midnight day). By viewing multiple films in one day, themes of the festival start to come to the surface. Whether intentionally or not, the 2013 Roger Ebert Film Festival has had some strong thematic through-lines. With the passing of Roger on everyone’s mind, the films he programmed have been equal parts appropriate and bittersweet.


Ebertfest 2013: Opening Night, by Aaron Pinkston

17 Apr


Standing in line wrapped around the Virginia Theater in Champaign, Illinois, waiting for the doors to open, I was quickly reminded of one of the many reasons why Ebertfest is so special. As the line kept growing with people passing by to the end, occasionally someone would stop and chat with another. Overhearing the conversations, it seemed clear that the acquaintances knew each other from past years at the festival and were quickly catching up on the time between. Only my second full year at the Roger Ebert Film Festival, even I could see the wonderful community that has been accidentally spawned. Each year, for the past 15 years, people from central Illinois and across the world come together to a college town, taking a break from their lives to watch movies for five days. That’s a pretty beautiful thing.