Thursday, April 23, 2009

Begin Here

And another year begins. How wonderful.

This is my fifth year participating in Roger Ebert’s film festival. That’s long enough for me to witness its original moniker –-the “Overlooked Film Festival”—fall by the wayside; long enough to make some wonderful friends and, sadly, long enough to bid farewell to a few of them. I’ve even been participating long enough to know how to get to Steak N Shake on my own volition. To name but a handful, I’ve met Paul Cox and Werner Herzog and Alan Rickman and Farmer John and Darrell Roodt and John Malkovich and Jeff Nichols and Joey Lauren Adams and Christine Lahti and Guy Maddin and Ramin Bahrani (the latter two I’ll see again this year), and here at Ebertfest, “meeting” someone actually means something.

I consider this festival free grad school for all of us lucky enough to participate in any capacity. We eat all our meals together, camp out in the university’s student union, and, best of all, sit shoulder to shoulder in front of the Virginia Theater’s satisfyingly wide screen.We watch one movie after another, all together, and only take breaks to talk about what we’ve been watching with the people who made the films and the people who have thought about them a lot already. When I first started attending, I merely tagged along as a film enthusiast who’d barely done any film writing. But because my enthusiasm, if not my knowledge, was boundless, the powers-that-be here (especially Roger Ebert and the late Dusty Cohl, co-founder of the Toronto International Film Festival) always included me in their conversations, even benignly forgiving my deep-rooted hatred of Kubrick. Of course I learned more from listening than from talking, not only about what was on the screen but what went on behind it, from production to distribution. For movies are extraordinary for so many reasons, not the least of which is that they are both art and business, social commentary and in many cases social perpetrators. What better way to view the whole world than to view what we choose to view?

These days, the film industry—including film criticism—is facing the serious challenges that all seemingly extraneous fields face during times of financial crisis. Just as I and many of my colleagues are finally hitting our strides, the bottom has fallen out beneath us. The future is maddeningly uncertain: where will view our films? who will view films? how will we view films? how will we write about them? and make them? and for whom? and how?

As I’ve always said, when the tough gets going, the tough goes to school. So Ebertfest11 couldn’t come at a better time. We need to calm down and just look at some significant films to remember why we love them. We need to discuss in a comfortable place what comes next.

Also, and this may truly be my most important point yet: I personally need to drive the awesome silver jeep that the rental car agency gave me this year. For a Brooklyn girl, these are no small apples.


  1. Brilliant piece!

    Oh! Since yo know the way to Steak and Shake can I follow you?

  2. Oh Honey! You need to drive that big silver car immediately!

    I am hoping that people will realize hat the only way to see, experience and taste a film is on the big screen!

  3. Just got in from Chicago. Look forward to watching "Sita Sings the Blues" and "Nothing But the Truth" with the festival crowd tomorrow.

    I love the vibe that this festival brings to U of I.

  4. Hello Shaili! I'm from chi-town also! I'm dying to see sita sings the blues too!!

  5. Hey Lisa! check out my blog ( all about the ebertfest at the moment) also!

  6. Hey Lisa....what a great intro! Love your writing as always. Let me know if you decide to venture to Chicago. If so, lunch on me!
    -J Ro