Ebertfest Day Four – Higher Ground

Higher GroundTo kick off the last full day of Ebertfest, we began with Higher Ground. Contrary to what the title may lead you to believe, Higher Ground is not a teenage stoner comedy, it’s actually based on the memoir of the same title by Carolyn Briggs. Carolyn also came to speak with us about the process of the novel, some artistic liberties the movie took, and her story in general.

Higher Ground is, at its most basic, the story of a woman growing up. Corine (Vera Farmiga, who also directed the feature)  finds religion and tries so desperately to make religion fit in her life but she is left feeling empty despite her truly best efforts. She gets married and starts a family at a very young age (the teenage Corinne is actually played by Vera Farmiga’s younger sister, Taissa) and joins, what could easily be described as a Christian cult. Religion and Jesus takes such a large portion of her life but ultimately for all the love and time she gives she gets little in return.

I have never been religious in even the slightest sense but the story really rang true for me. Religion could very easily be the butt of the joke for the film, but it is not. It is treated with utmost care and while some of the Christian practices were very strange, they are not mocked. I really can’t explain why, but Higher Ground really hit me and it was the last movie I was expecting to even remotely like from the entire festival. Vera Farmiga does such a stunning job both acting and behind the camera, she is such a tremendous talent.

When Carolyn Briggs came back out to talk to the audience she had some funny stories about the screening of Higher Ground. One screening was done for a Christian university, or something of the sort and she was very worried that it would be received negatively since it does involve a woman losing most of her faith. That audience was able to overlook that, it seems, which is a very important thing to note about the film. When asked what box for religion she would check in a survey about herself, she thought for quite some time before saying she would probably just skip the question and leave the box blank. That sums up Higher Ground perfectly. Though it does meander a bit aimlessly a bit, so does life.

I give it 4 out of 5.

Some interesting Ebertfest links:

The festival’s main site: http://www.ebertfest.com/
Stream the interview sessions for free: http://ustre.am/JauL

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Ebertfest 2012 Announcements!

Roger Ebert’s Blog – With the Ebertfest announcement

Allow me to give a brief history lesson to set up this post…

I am from the greater Chicagoland area and have been a movie lover for as long as I can remember. Growing up, my family would watch Siskel and Ebert At the Movies religiously. My father wouldn’t see a movie without hearing the opinions of both Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. I have literally grown up with Roger Ebert as the film critic and I’ve enjoyed reading his work my entire life.

For those of you unfamiliar with Ebertfest, here is the official site, here is the Wikipedia page. It pretty much exactly what it sounds like, a film festival helmed by Mr. Ebert. It is held near the University of Illinois campus and unlike other film festivals where submissions are welcome, Ebertfest choices are handpicked.

I am incredibly excited to get to be going this year and a good friend of mine is flying up from North Carolina to share the experience. It’s my first time going, but hopefully not my last.

Now, onto the film choices…

  • Kind Hearts and Coronets – Not only is this a great movie, but Patton Oswalt (Young Adult) picked it and will be the host for the night. Alec Guiness is simply amazing in this.
  • Big Fan – Another great movie, starring Patton Oswalt as a rabid NY Jets fan. Obviously Oswalt will join for this
  • Joe Versus the Volcano – An seemingly odd choice but one of Ebert’s favorites. I’m always up for classic Tom Hanks movies.
  • Phunny Business: A Black Comedy – Totally unaware of this documentary but it is about an all black night club and the owner. The owner of the club, Raymond Lambert, will be joining us.
  • The Truth About Beauty and Blogs – Short film, hadn’t heard of it before but it looks like it will tie into Phunny Business. Joined by Kelichi Ezie, the comedienne and filmmaker. Joined by the writer-director, actors and some crew.
  • Kinyarwanda – I have heard many things about this and if it’s as heart-wrenching as it sounds it will be mesmerizing.
  • TerriHey, I blogged about this! Star Jacob Wysocki and director, Azazal Jacobs, will join.
  • On Borrowed Time – A documentary about the past two years of Paul Cox’s life after getting a life-saving kidney transplant. Should be a fascinating watch. Cox and Nate Kohn will join.
  • A short film collection accompanied by The Alloy Orchestra including Georges Méliès’ Trip to the Moon, which you may recognize from Hugo. Alloy Orchestra members will join the discussion.
  • A Separation – This Iranian film (and Oscar winner!) is something I regret not having already seen so I greatly look forward to it. Director, Asghar Farhadi, is hoping to join.
  • Special effects techniques from the wizards that worked on The Tree of Life.
  • Higher Ground – Not the stoner comedy that its name makes it out to be, this is a film about how religion shapes a woman’s life. Screenwriter Carolyn S. Briggs will join.
  • Patang – I don’t believe I had heard of this film before. The director’s father was one of Ebert’s old film students. Director Prashant Bhargava will join along with his father and assorted cast and crew.
  • Take Shelter – A movie that has ranked very high on my ‘to-watch’ list and I couldn’t be more excited that Michael Shannon will be there along with director, Jeff Nichols. So very excited for this one.
  • Citizen Kane – Not only is this one of the best movies ever, but Ebert recorded a commentary track for the DVD release some years ago and that will be playing along with the movie. It is a fantastic commentary to go along with an incredible film.

More details can obviously found in the source link at the top of this post but I must say again…I am EXTREMELY excited for this. I will be posting from the event, so expect more to come!