Tomorrow evening marks the launch of the 17th Annual Roger Ebert Film Festival. It has now been more years since I’ve been than I ever attended. I miss it. It must be the most joyful film festival of the year, because every film there is there because it strives for excellence. Every audience member is there because they love film with a passion.
More so than any other year, I will not be able to see many of the entries. Six of this year’s 12 films are either currently in select theaters—i.e. no where near the cultural black hole in which I reside—or haven’t even been released yet. The three in theaters are “Girlhood”, which is not a spinoff of last year’s excellent “Boyhood” but rather a film about a group four teenage girls who explore what friendship means and the protection it provides. It is the third film by director Céline Sciamma’s to examine what it is like to be a girl. “Wild Tales” was one of this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Foreign Language film and was even considered a dark horse to steal the prize from eventual winner “Ida” (another of this year’s Ebertfest films). It is the rare multi-story feature that works well cohesively, prompting many critics to claim it as the best multi-story picture they’d ever seen. And finally, Ethan Hawke’s directorial debut “Seymour: An Introduction” is a documentary about the great classical pianist Seymour Bernstein. This film will close the festival in a slot that is traditionally reserved for a music-oriented film.
The films yet to be released theatrically in the U.S. include a new film by Roy Andersson, “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence”. Andersson’s previous films “Songs from the Second Floor” and “You, the Living” have both graced Ebertfests of the past and are a perfect example of the original outlook and underappreciated cinematic experiences championed by the festival. Also returning with yet another Ebertfest entry is Ramin Bahrani with his latest “99 Homes”. Bahrani was clearly Ebert’s favorite new filmmaker of the past decade or so, as the outspoken critic has deservedly championed his films since the first. Bahrani’s last film, “At Any Price” was one of the last films reviewed by Ebert before his death. “99 Homes” is scheduled to be released in September. Finally, James Ponsoldt’s “The End of the Tour” sees a dramatic turn for Jason Segel as the lauded late writer David Foster Wallace in a remembrance by reporter David Lipsky (played here by Jesse Eisenberg). The film has garnered a great deal of positive buzz, which could set it up to be a late year awards darling. A tribute of the film career of Harold Ramis is also planned.
While I will greatly miss the opportunity to see those movies on the beautiful big screen of the Virginia Theater in Champaign, Ill., I will be watching the remaining six through various streaming and physical mediums at my home. Having only seen “Ida” and Robert DeNiro’s directorial debut “A Bronx Tale” previously, my eager revisitations of those two will be accompanied by fresh screenings of Jean-Luc Godard’s latest “Goodbye to Language”, the incredible documentary “Moving Midway”, Alan Polsky’s “The Motel Life” and this year’s silent entry “The Son of the Sheik” starring Rudolph Valentino sans Ebertfest’s regular musical accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra. I hope to provide brief reviews of each of these films as they are screened at the festival. And as usual, I will dream of the day I can once again attend.