Friday, May 13, 2011

Ebertfest Day Four

For the next few days Austin Lugar shall be sharing his experiences at the 13 thannual Ebertfest held in Champaign, Illinois. He’ll be giving short film reviews and reactions to the festival. For more random comments about the weekend follow him on Twitter at @AustinLugar.

Day Four

The one word to describe the day would be “intense.” Every applause was louder and longer not only because there were four strong films but the crowd was just really into it today. During one film, every single seat was filled with enthusiastic fans who amped up the energy for today.

A Small Act

This was the earliest we’ve had a screening. This started at 11AM so the doors open at 10. It was a documentary that no one has heard of, but was applauded by Ebert and made his list of the Top 10 Documentaries of last year. It was about an older Swedish woman who gave $15 a month to help support a young boy in Africa with his education.

The documentary crew found out who that boy was and he is now this amazing man named Chris Mburu. He wouldn’t have been able to afford schooling despite his high grades. He ended up going to Harvard and now works with the UN helping to promote education. What’s even greater is that he lives a lot in Kenya striving to improve the lives of these children.

The film really shows the power of simple acts of kindness and the importance of education. It isn’t as manipulative as other films about education and because of that it ends up being more powerful.

The director and the DP/producer were at the panel after the movie. Yet the one who stole the show was Hilde Back, the very sweet Swedish woman. Roger Ebert presented her a bouquet of flowers. As expected, most of the panel was about activism and seeing what we could do to help. Yet everyone was perfectly okay with this because most of the room had been moved to tears.

4.5 Yaps

Life, Above All

Chaz warned the audience that should keep their Kleenex handy for the next film. The director, Oliver Schmitz, came to the stage to say it’s very life affirming. I think those things were a little too much of a build up. The film is like the South African version of Winter’s Bone.

Khomotso Manyaka plays Chanda, a young girl who starts the film making funeral arrangements for her baby sister. Her drunk step-father blames the mother because she is sick. The rest of the film is Chanda moving around the village keeping all of the plates spinning to keep all of her life stable.

The film is very well acted and quite beautifully shot. The weird part of the film is its pacing. Instead of having a lot of forward momentum, it’s more interested in keeping secrets and avoiding confrontation. I was a bit slow on what was actually going on, but that means this film probably holds up beter on a second viewing.

The crowd loved it though. Schmitz and Manyaka were available for the Q&A afterwards. Most of the questions were oriented towards Manyaka about her performance, but she kept trying to say that it was naturalistic. No one seemed to believe that though…

3.5 Yaps

Leaves of Grass

I reviewed the DVD for the site a bunch of months back so I won’t go into too many details about this film. It works even better the second time. Most of the crowd had not seen it before and that was evident by the many gasps throughout the screening. The film is still very funny and structured in a way that shows this isn’t a typical crime comedy. Very smart and very underappreciated, which makes it a perfect pick at a festival like this.

Tim Blake Nelson was present after the film. He had the greatest interview and Q&A. He is so articulate the way he talks about forming a film and theories of direction. I like how he talked about the film being intentionally incoherent. He’s still experimenting as a storyteller and he’s very academic about the films he has worked on. He is not just the southern hick from O Brother Where Art Thou; he’s one of the underappreciated artists working in Hollywood.

4.5 Yaps

I Am Love

This was another one I’ve seen already, but I was really looking forward to seeing it on the BIG BIG screen. (No offense to the Landmark Theatre in Austin, but the Virginia Theatre is awesomely giant.) It’s a film I really love, not just because of the title. It’s a film that is so energetic with its visuals and music. It’s about a woman living in Italy who starts to find a passion in her life that she hasn’t experienced for a long time. Tilda Swinton is that woman. Swinton actually learned Italian and Russian for this part and it’s one of the best of her career.

Luca Guadagnino is such a masterful director that every frame seems magically organic and crafted by a master. Obviously a bird flying across the frame in such a way is not something he can’t control, but he presents it like it’s all like everything is on purpose.

Swinton was a delight. There is a reason why Ebert keeps calling her Saint Tilda. She was so warm and energetic. She had a love for film that was unmatched by anyone else at the festival. Winning an Oscar didn’t seem like a big deal. She loved that winning the trophy gave her the opportunity to rerelease one of her early films, Orlando, and to have the money to open a bingo place in Scotland. She seems heavily involved with her films, especially the smaller ones, but rarely takes any credit for it. She talked lovingly about working on films like Narnia and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button because she had this wide-eyed curiosity about the bigger budget films and working with different artists. She was one of the few panelists I wished would talk for an hour more.

4.5 Yaps

Since I had to head back on Sunday, I wasn’t able to make the screening for Louder Than a Bomb which is too bad. I’ll catch up on it when it hits DVD because it has been getting good reviews. It was a long week, but a wonderful one. I realized this was my first time at a convention where I wasn’t working during it. These write-ups were more for fun, than work. It’s a festival I highly recommend to everyone and I recommend even further to find these movies and start a discussion about them. That’s where it all comes from: the joy of cinema.

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