Saturday, April 21, 2012

Ebertfest 2012 Preview

Another year has rolled around and once again it’s time for Ebertfest. The 14th Annual Roger Ebert’s Film Festival plays at the Virginia Theater in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois next week April 25-29. I’ve attended five of them over the years and hope beyond my financial considerations each year that I might attend again. Alas this is another year that I won’t be in attendance, but as the programming for this film festival is probably the best a cineaste can ask for, I will be doing my best to keep up with the movies as they watch them in the Virginia Theater next weekend.

Last year’s festival was the first time since I attended my first Ebertfest 10 years ago that I didn’t cover it in some way. This year I’m covering some of the movies  because I’m so excited about them.  As usual there are some classics, some overlooked mainstream films, and a slew of great independents and foreign films. The Alloy Orchestra is back to accompany a collection of silent films and there will be guest speakers in panel discussions following each of the films.

This year’s opening movie is the movie that has been considered for more Ebertfests than any other, yet it never made the cut until this year. “Joe Versus the Volcano” is a surrealist romance that was the first of three romantic collaborations between stars Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Most people don’t remember it because it was a flop at the box office. The screenplay and direction by John Patrick Shanley may have been a little strange for mainstream audiences, but the results are purely original cinema.

The biggest reason I’m so exited about this year’s festival and the biggest disappointment I have about missing it is the involvement of comedian Patton Oswalt, who was snubbed by the Academy this year as a supporting actor for his excellent performance in the movie “Young Adult”. Ebert invited Oswalt to this year’s festivities as a guest for the screening of “Big Fan” in which Oswalt provides another amazing performance as an obsessed New York Football Giants fan. This excites me as a Giants fan, myself; but it’s also a wonderful film.

Oswalt had one condition for attending the festival. He wanted to choose a film that he would screen for University of Illinois film students and host a class on it. The film he chose was the classic British murder comedy “Kind Hearts and Coronets”. I’ve never seen the revered movie and look forward to finally experiencing it.

The other films from this year’s festival that I’ll be screening include, the quirky comedy about high school outcasts who form their own unique friendships “Terri”, “Higher Ground” tells the story of a woman’s lifelong struggle with her own faith in the directing debut of actress Vera Farmiga, Michael Shannon plays a man who may be crazy or may be having visions of the end of the world in “Take Shelter”. I’ll also screen the closing day film, the Orson Welles classic “Citizen Kane”, with the DVD audio commentary by Roger Ebert himself.

As usual when I can’t be there in person, there are several films I won’t be able to screen due to lack of availability in a home access format. The second film of opening night will be the Showtime documentary “Phunny Business: A Black Comedy” about Chicago’s preeminent comedy club All Jokes Aside. The short film “The Truth About Beauty & Blogs”, which boasts this brief description on, “a social media diva is thrown off her game when her boyfriend starts acting up on the internet,” will precede this film.

“Kinyarwanda” takes an even closer look at the 1994 genocide in Rwanda than the 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda”. “On Borrowed Time” is a documentary about Australian filmmaker Paul Cox, a personal favorite of Ebert’s whose films “Innocence” and “A Man of Flowers” have both been featured in previous Ebertfests. “Wild and Weird” features 10 innovative short silent films from 1906-1926 accompanied live by Ebertfest favorites the Alloy Orchestra. The Oscar winner this year for Foreign Language Film “A Separation” tells a story about an Iranian couple faced with a difficult decision. “Patang” is a movie from India that tells about the nation’s largest kite festival through the stories of six people.

So, there are several films I will pine for this year, not too long for “Kinyarwanda”, which will be released on DVD May 15. There are still several that I will get the chance to enjoy, many for the second time, and share with you my readers. Trust me, if it’s featured at Ebertfest, it’s a movie worth seeking out.

Visit the Ebertfest website for tickets and live streaming of the panel discussions following each screening.

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