When I first decided to go to “Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival” in Urbana, IL., I really didn’t know what to expect. Usually, a film festival is about introducing new movies to new audiences. This festival was about introducing old movies to new audiences because they are “overlooked.”
Roger said during his opening speech at the festivals reception, “No matter how overlooked your film is not, in my opinion it has not received the attention and praise it deserves. As a film critic, I review about 260 movies a year and I see about 450 movies a year and I find that the movies that open in 3000 theaters, in a theater near you, are not always the ones I feel are the best new films. Some of the best films never made are never opened in some cities. Some of them never open in some states.”
Ebert gets email from his TV show viewers complaining that some of the films he reviews are never shown in their area. Ebert said one of the reasons he has the festival in Urbana, IL is because Chicago doesn’t need a festival. What better place to show overlooked films than in an overlooked market. Makes sense to me.
This year, Urbana was priviledged to see the world premier of “Stanley Kubrick, A Life in Pictures.” They also got to see “2001: A Space Odyssey” in its orginal 70mm format, digitally enhanced. Ebert said during the festival’s reception at the president’s house, “This festival is a reminder every year of the wonderful variety of film that exists, and genres that exist, and kinds of film that exists.”
Dusty Kohl, founder of the Toronto Film Festival, said at the reception, “You don’t know how good this festival really is, and I’m here to tell you.” Dusty was a funny guy, and he wears a hat which is his trademark. He even has a pin modeled after his hat, which Ebert wears on his suit jacket. Ebert said, “If you ever get one of these pins, you must wear it at every festival you attend.”
Well, I didn’t have a pin, but I did watch all 14 films (15 if you include the 10 minute short) displayed at this year’s festival which included: “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Stanley Kubrick, A Life in Pictures,” “Maryam,” “Such A Long Journey,” “Songs From the Second Floor,” “Panic,” “Girl on the Bridge,” “Nosferatu,” “Dragonflies, the Baby Cries” (10 minute short), “3 Women,” “The King of Masks,” “On the Ropes,” “Jesus’ Son,” “A Simple Plan,” and “Everyone Says I Love You.”
Out of all these films, I disliked only five and my overall experience was a positive one. Even if I didn’t like a film, it was always fascinating to listen to a director, producer or actor talk about their film in an on-stage panel discussion with Roger. In some cases, I liked the people behind the film more than the film itself. Which means there is still hope for their filmmaking in the future.
I also liked listening to the stories that most people generally don’t know or hear about. Ebert talked about one incident where he saw a movie star walk out of the screening of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Ebert said, “Rock Hudson walked by me and said, ‘Somebody tell me what the hell this film is about.’ Oddly enough, Rock Hudson went on to make ‘Ice Station Zebra,’ and I walked out saying the same thing.”
This is interesting stuff!
Ebert introduced each film and he was often quite humorous – somtimes even stumbling in his own presentations. He really knows how to warm up to an audience – and his love for film is so obvious. There were times where he got a little political or philisophical – which was kind of a turn-off. There was one night where he mentioned the recent China/USA incident. He basically said the United States was at fault because we flew in China’s airspace. Uh, Roger? Where did you dream this one up? I don’t even recall one report on TV that indicated we were in China’s airspace. See what I mean? Why bring up such controversial matters unless it has something to do with a given film.
Most people have watched Roger Ebert present movie reviews on his TV show “Ebert & Roeper and the Movies” (Buena Vista TV). Many have also read his syndicated Chicago Sun-Times movie reviews. Quite frankly, Ebert is the best known movie critic in America. A lot of people complain about movie critics – sometimes characterizing them as stiff, intellectual meanies with pens – and no heart. Well, I got to see Ebert for a whole week and let me tell you one thing. This man has a big heart. And his love for people and film is the driving force behind his festival. Attending this event is a contagious cure for those who thought of Ebert otherwise.
Now and then you would see Roger run to someone with open arms and hug them like family; or speaking softly to an elderly woman he knew while he hugged her; or giving a quick kiss to his wife Chaz and hugging lots of old friends. Or just plain talking to people – even me! Ok. So call me sentimental. But I like to point out things others won’t. I’m not here to kiss Roger Ebert’s butt by any means. But I think knowing a different perspective on a public person is important, especially if that person is oftentimes viewed negatively because of his opinion on a film. As for me, I have a greater respect for Ebert as a human being – and that’s far more important to me than his celebrity status, college education or the Pulitzer Prize he won.
Roger’s wife, Chaz, was presented with a bouquet of flowers on Saturday night. She said, “When I married Roger, I vowed to love him through good movies and bad movies,” she said jokingly. “I admit it’s better when they are good movies. I tell you I love this festival and we’ll keep coming back.”
The Virginia Theater was the prefect venue. I admired the old fashioned 1921 architecture (still under renovation), but I detested all 1,540 cramped seats. I mean, were most people midgets in 1921? I did like the festival’s relaxed atmosphere, though – allowing you to walk right up to celebrities and talk to them. Bill Paxton was as down to earth as can be and Mark Borchardt from “American Movie” was simply a riot. He saw my Film Theat cap I was wearing and said, “Hey, man – I bet you wear that hat with pride, man. I remember Film Threat when it first came out in print. Be sure to tell Chris Gore ‘Hi’ for me, man.” He was hilarious – real nice guy.
Ebert concluded during a speech on the last day of the festival, “Most festivals are really trade events. If you’re not buying or selling, you’re not there. Here we don’t buy. We don’t sell. We only love.”
Love is, indeed, the foundation of “Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival.” And maybe that’s why so many people love coming here. I can tell you this – I won’t overlook this festival next year.
Neither should you.
Read all of Herb Kane’s reports from “Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival” and get the whole story! ^ THUMBAPALOOZA: EBERT FEST KICKS OFF ^ THUMBAPALOOZA: EBERT PRESENTS “2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY” ^ THUMBAPALOOZA: LET THE FILMS BEGIN! ^ THUMBAPALOOZA: EBERT PRESENTS “NOSFERATU” AND MORE ^ THUMBAPALOOZA: BILL PAXTON JOINS THE FESTIVITIES ^ THUMBAPALOOZA: MUSICAL ENDS FEST ON A HAPPY NOTE
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