Sunday, April 25, 2010

My EbertFest 2010

Attending a four day film festival by yourself - alone - is an intensely personal experience. Unavoidably a lonely experience. A melancholy and reflective experience. But rich and thrilling too. All of the above.

In the end, I saw 10 of the 13 films screened at this Roger Ebert's EbertFest 2010 in Champaign-Urbana.  Achieving, for the most part, my primary objective at a film festival. I was also able to attend a Meet-n-Greet for the Ebert Club at the University of Illinois Illini Union as well as watching several panels of the festivals VIP's. I met six of the eight Ebert's Far Flung Correspondents, including Ali and Omer and Omar. I spent quality time with several of my fellow Roger Ebert's Journal commenters: Grace Wang, Dave Van Dyke, Tom Dark, Brett, Sean,  and lurker Kassie! I had conversations before movies with long-time festival goers about festival culture. And, I tweeted relentlessly through a Twitter login on the Ebertfest website.

I did it all. Made the most of my solo festival experience. Very few regrets of missed moments.

Most of all, I had my camera as my companion. I think that I captured the spirit of the festival from my POV as best as I could. You can see my full gallery on Lick Creek Photography:   (Please leave a comment on any picture that you especially like.)

What I wasn't expecting from the my first full EbertFest immersion was this: not just "watching" movies, but experiencing movies. Experiencing the full emotional impact that the rich eclectic blend of movies that Roger had selected was capable of delivering.

I wasn't expecting to be confronted with myself.

That emotional impact was heightened by virtue of being back on the campus of the University of Illinois. This beautiful campus is the scene of both one of my proudest times of my life (being accepted and enrolling as a freshman in the fall of 1978) and also of the deepest regret of my life (having to leave before completing my degree - finished 14 years later at a university elsewhere). I have such deep and mixed emotions when I am inevitably drawn to stroll on the Quad. Always, inevitably, ending with pain. If I could have those years to do over again, could I do it so much better than I did? Of course I could.

The movie-emotion and the campus-emotion collided when I went to Steak and Shake Friday night after the powerful screening of Synedoche NY. I was hoping to find EbertFesters there, and found none. Instead, I found a restaurant filled with students, many in dress for a formal. All students, plus me - feeling infinitely old. Stewing in my thoughts on Synedoche NY and my campus regrets. Hazel's words to Caden on the night before she died echoing in my head: "I wish we had this when we were younger, and all the years in between". Wow. Ouch. Damn.

Thoughts on my 10 movies, plus shorts:

a. Short: musicians throughout the world singing one continuous song "Stand by Me". Thrilling and beautiful. A masterpiece in the duration of one song.

1. Pink Floyd's the Wall:

2nd row was two close for this chaotic madness. I enjoyed the music though, including the rich texture of the guitar.

2. "You, the Living" from Sweden with subtitles:

I didn't expect that a movie with 50 vignettes about depressed people would be so funny. Rich laughter in the theater. Repeating themes (Swedish military band, last call at the bar) tied the vignettes together in an unexpectedly sentimental and funny movie.

3. "The New Age"

A Hollywood movie from 1993, with recognizable Hollywood talent from writer / director Michael Tolkin. The jokes about the real estate recession seemed prescient and magnified in today's recession. A quality story well acted. "How are your morals?" was the thematic question of the film to me, and in life...

4. "Apocalypse Now Redux"

Wow. 3 1/2 of a masterpiece on a huge screen in 70mm. It was an ordeal to get through in the Virginia's old seats, and well worth the struggle. The movie brought home again that war is a chaotic and terrible thing for everyone involved. I marvelled at the Kilgore character (Duvall). I saw Brando in a new way. And I was struck mostly by Captain Willard's pain, which he kept at bay only through "mission" - as do many...

"Apocalypse Now" was a formative movie for me when I first saw it as a 19 year old student on the campus of the U of I. I had registered for the draft. I had lived through the Vietnam years as an impressionable teen. I was primed. Little did I know that I would volunteer for the Air Force a few short years later and serve 11 years.

5. "Departures"

This is simply the most beautiful and moving film that I have ever seen in my life. A film about the "encoffinment" profession in Japan, and the deep respect with which they care for the deceased. A perfect relationship development with the husband & wife characters. Humor and pathos perfectly delivered. A well deserved standing ovation for the director at the Q&A.

6. "Man with a Movie Camera"

Not for me. Oh well.

7. "Synedoche NY"

I hated this movie when I first saw it - alone late at night in my living room on DVD. Given Roger's naming it his movie of the Decade, I owed it a 2nd chance.

I had missed much of the humor in the movie. Seeing it with 1500 people laughing will correct that. Still it is a deeply unpleasant and irritating movie about a grumpy hypochondriac who is deeply and profoundly unhappy.

I was offended when the studio head said during the Q&A that the haters "were people who did not know how to watch the movie". Such is the arrogance of Hollywood - people defending why their art project made little money. Because it's a depressing and unpleasant and irritating movie, that's why.

Still, I was struck during the movie by Caden's frequent expressions of loneliness. Sad. True.

I got more out of it on the 2nd viewing. There will not be a third viewing.

b. Short: world musicians playing one continuous song. I don't know the song - seemed to be a Bob Marley song called something like "we don't need troubles" with Bono and others. Beautiful. I could watch these musical shorts all day long.

8. "I Capture the Castle"

A sweet British romantic comedy with strong echoes of the much better "The Other Boleyn Girl". Better than I expected.

9 "Vincent: a life in color"

As powerful a documentary as I've ever seen, about a colorful character indeed. It explained a lot about Vincent Falk - the "Riveraci" & Fashion Show Man who greets Chicago tour boats daily with his colorful dress and spin moves. We learned what makes him tick. What is behind his armor of puns and wardrobe.

As a former foster parent of years, I was deeply moved by Vincent's broken childhood in orphanages, just seeking parents who would love him. "St. Joseph's Home for the Friendless" is the saddest name for an orphanage that I've ever heard.

I met Vincent earlier in the week at the Ebert Club Meet-n-Greet, and got my own pun from him when he asked me where I was from.

I'm from Pekin. Instantly - "Oh, did you stop by the festival to peek in?" Clever.

c. Short by Ramin Bahrani: "Plastic Bag"  Simple and beautiful personification with a message, with Werner Herzog as the narrator.

10. "Trucker" 

Michelle Monaghan's virtuoso performance of a female trucker with a "just hanging on" edge whose unexpected confrontation with parenthood softens her. Sweet and perfect film.

I made one last trip out to the restroom right before the show, and was surprised to find her in the lobby talking to an excited fan. He wanted a picture with her, so I volunteered to take it for him. "Would you return the favor", I asked and got my picture with her. What a treat. She is radiantly beautiful and very sweet in real life (IRL)! Thank you, Michelle for the picture.

I also met the delightful Nell Minow, and got my picture with her as well. I appreciated her input on the panels.

The highlight of the festival for me: why, meeting one of my heroes Roger Ebert twice during the week.

First, at the Ebert Club Meet-n-Greet where he patted the couch next to him and had me sit for a picture. Earlier, as he entered the room and walked around shaking everyone's hand, he approached me and shook his finger at me as if saying "There you are!". That handshake was memorable.

Later, at the Far-Flung-Correspondents panel. I attended with my friend and sparring partner on Ebert's Journal - Dave Van Dyke - who I met through Ebert's Journal. I took Dave over to meet Roger. Roger looked at us and wrote something like "You two are here together?". He had us shake hands, and then put his hand over our clasped hands. Priceless.

I'm home now. I'm exhausted. And I had the experience of a lifetime at EbertFest 2010.

Selected pictures:

Me with Ali Arikan and Grace Wang:

2. Me with Omer Mozzafer and Tom Dark

3. Me with Dave Van Dyke and Roger Ebert, hands clasped:


4. Me with Michelle Monaghan:

Me with Nell Minow - "Movie Mom"

Me, nestled in for another showing:

You can find my festival tweets at


  1. Great pictures, Randy. Hope I can make it out there next year. Looks like you had a blast.

  2. Thanks, Literary Dreamer. I did indeed have a profound and wonderful experience.

  3. Randy -

    I loved reading your blog of the festival - and look, I'm posting, not lurking!

  4. Hi Kassie the Lurker! It was a pleasure meeting you (twice)at EbertFest. Yay, you posted! Post more.

  5. Hi Randy - linked over from Roger's (great) blog. It sounds like you had a great time, very happy for you. I follow your posts a lot on Ebert and am a mostly silent supporter. I've commented recently on a social justice page as well as posts where objective morality is relevant. So keep up the good work!

    Anyway, thought you might be interested in a Design related book by a philosopher named Del Ratzsch. He has a great one called "Nature, Design, and Science: The Status of Design in Natural Science". He doesn't make specific scientific arguments pointing to design so much as he lays the philosophic groundwork to justify that design arguments can (in principle) be scientific...something many methodological/philosophical naturalists deny outright, as you are well aware. It's really great. He got a nice blurb from William Lane Craig, if you are familiar with his work, so he's not a hack. Anyway, been working through it and it's quite helpful. You can preview it on amazon if you're interested at all. And by the way, don't feel obligated (since we don't even know each other!). :)

    Here is an interview he gave to get a flavor of his views. I don't agree with everything he says, but he is very, very good at what he does.


    I am planning to check out Meyers' Signature in the Cell this summer, so you did motivate at least one person to pick up a copy with your commenting! :)

  6. Hi Josh. I've been enjoying your work on Roger's excellent Journal as well. I wanted to get into that thread, but you were doing quite nicely.

    There are two Josh's commenting regularly there. One who insults me on a regular basis. I prefer your posts!

    I'll look for the book that you cited. I think that you will enjoy "Signature in the Cell". it reads like a detective novel - chronicling his 20 year journey unravelling the design issue. I think it is quite good. Enjoy it this Summer.