Friday, April 29, 2011

Like You Were There: Ebertfest 2011 (Day Two) (JB's Take)

JB is taking over Like You Were There this week, as he reports daily from Champaign, Illinois, while attending Roger Ebert's annual film festival, Ebertfest.
Day Two of Ebertfest begins with much nicer weather to stand in line. It is actually sunny, and it is not raining. Here we have a little parable for people who care way way way way too much about where they sit in the theatre. Our little group got in line at about 10 o'clock; doors open at noon. This means we stand in line for about two hours. Lo and behold, they open the doors at noon on the dot, and what follows is a middle-aged buffalo stampede (pretty slow up those steps to the balcony!) in order to get THE SEATS. Avid moviegoers grab their idea of prime real estate and...

We look around, and the theater is only about a quarter full. (WTF?) It would remain that way for the next 45 minutes. Gosh. I have noticed that Ebertfest is less well-attended this year; the program is good, so I am not sure why. Here is another theory: could the majority of  Ebertfest participants have learned over the last thirteen years that unless you: 1) feel excessively entitled or 2) have undiagnosed obsessive compulsive disorder or 3) are me... it is not that important where you sit? Hmmmm.

I vow to get in line even earlier tomorrow.

First up was Vittorio DeSica’s Umberto D., a film that everyone (both in the audience and on stage) began shamefacedly admitting to never having seen. Of course, the most famous Vittorio DeSica neorealist film is Bicycle Thieves. Everyone but everyone has seen Bicycle Thieves. There are molds, spores and tree fungi that have seen Bicycle Thieves. No one has seen Umberto D. Poor Umberto D. I recommend it. The film explores themes that we do not much talk about in public: the plight of the poor, the plight of the elderly, the nature of dignity. My son made the comment that it seemed to be Bicycle Thieves in reverse, which if you have seen both films, is really really true.

The panel discussion following Umberto D. was interesting. For some reason known only to Satan, Ignatiy Vishnevestsky was asked to moderate. Paul Fierlinger, the remarkable illustrator and animator behind My Dog Tulip, was also included. The theme of Thursday afternoon seemed to be dogs; a dog has a major role in Umberto D. and, of course, My Dog Tulip is all over the dog thing.

Fierlinger had watched Umberto D. and innocently suggested the film took place in PRE World War II Italy. Ignatiy made the point that he was pretty sure it was POST World War II, but because Fierlinger is much older and charming and funny, the audience sided with him. Some smarty-pants in the audience had an iPhone, looked it up, and it turned out that Ignatiy was right. This proves life is not fair.

My Dog Tulip is an extraordinary film, challenging and funny and adult. This is a film brimming with visual invention that has something profound to share about the human condition. The follow-up Q&A with Paul Fierlinger was rewarding. Like his film, he has a laid-back and warm outside hiding a challenging and unique inside. This onstage discussion got to the heart of one of my biggest problems with Ebertfest. The audience is largely older, knowledgeable moviegoers who prefer their specialness to be stroked rather than challenged. They want their expert film knowledge and more discerning taste to be constantly affirmed by the films. They are not interested in pushing the envelope or anything too transgressive. There comes a moment in My Dog Tulip where the main character considers doing something very very cruel, especially in an animated film. I could hear the audience collectively holding its breath, wishing it would not happen. This was mirrored at the very end of the Q&A when Fierlinger almost innocently mentioned that some college chums had once cooked his dog and fed it to him. Total silence in the auditorium. Crickets. It was a moment to be savored.

I skipped Tiny Furniture.  I no longer do Indie Twee.  Don’t ask.

Ebertfest: Day One Recap

Ebertfest: Day Three Recap  

Ebertfest: Day Four Recap

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