Today marked the first day of the 15th annual Roger Ebert’s Film Festival (aka Ebertfest) in Champaign, Illinois. Since Roger’s passing less than two weeks ago my anticipation for this year’s festival has been mixed emotions of excitement and sadness. For the film festival, Roger wanted to share some of the finer movies of the past year as well as a few gems that he loved and without him here there is an obvious gap. However, we are there to not only enjoy Roger’s selections for the year, but also to celebrate Roger’s life and love of film.
In case you missed the schedule for this year’s Ebertfest, here it is.
Before I begin with the festival itself, I want to point out that The Virginia theater has been under extensive restoration since the close of last year’s festival and the results are simply stunning. You can see some of the details for yourself on their website.
Day One, of course, began with a lovely introduction by Chaz Ebert, who gave a heartwarming thank you to us for giving her something new to do. The festival is dedicated to Haskell Wexler, one of the directors of photography for tonight’s main feature, Days of Heaven. Chaz also introduced director Grace Wang, of the short film that officially kicked off the festivities, I Remember.
I Remember is clearly a film about love, but also of loss. Taking place on the bed in a lonely apartment with a view of the street below, we see a young woman. There is very little dialogue in the film, entirely taking place in a phone conversation between She and someone, maybe a former fling, maybe the man She is missing. We do not know, but we can tell She is annoyed by the call. It isn’t until She finds a man’s shirt with a note inside that we start wondering what happened to She and if the man she is remembering is still around and what happened between them. The apartment scenes are cut with scenes of a beach with the hands of a young woman and some shells, the same shells also appear on the window ledge in the apartment.
For a short film with next to no dialogue, a beautiful story is hidden and we only catch glimpses of it around the edges. I found the film haunting and quite well-made. Grace Wang, who you may recognize as one of Roger’s far-flung correspondents, did a fantastic job in her debut effort.
Next, we had a sing-along to the tune of Those Were the Days, with modified lyrics by Roger himself. It was quite charming, though instead of singing, I opted to listen to the choral group onstage. To close the evening, we were graced with Days of Heaven on the big screen in its original glory. While I have been a bit spoiled by the completely remastered Criterion blu-ray version of the film, seeing it in its original format the way it was meant to be seen was quite a thrill. I won’t go into detail of the film, as I covered it last year. I do wish more people could watch this film in theaters as the beauty is even more breathtaking on such a grand scale.
Haskell Wexler did a Q&A session afterward that was quite interesting and I will say that for an
87-year-old 91-year-old, Mr. Wexler is still incredibly sharp and is still working! For those of you that have seen Days of Heaven, you may wonder how Malick was able to get the shots of the locust swarms rising from the fields. According to Wexler, a helicopter dropped coffee beans and they reversed the film to make it look like a locust cloud rising. Incredible. Hit the video archive link below to see more!
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