It’s mid-May, Roger’s already wowing the crowds at Cannes, and I’m sitting here in a New York library thinking about how this year's Ebertfest program was not just about survivors. In films like Frozen River, Trouble the Water, Begging Naked, Chop Shop, even The Fall, people who are expected to merely survive find a way to instead live fully--with humor or beauty or, most purely, love. This year was about people who thrive despite the most trying conditions.
It was a spirit that infused the festival itself this year. No doubt we were a smaller group then in past years, but a very tight one. Whatever few airs or hierarchies that may have ever survived the festival’s no-nonsense friendliness before already had fallen by the wayside with Roger’s absence and co-conspirator Dusty Cohl’s death last year. This year we were ready. So many Chicago critics came to help with responsibilities that Roger, in retrospect rather miraculously, had previously shouldered himself. The filmmakers and critics and actors present banded together with a fraternity I’d never witnessed before—debating, cajoling and encouraging each other at meals, at parties, and in the Theaters.
Some of the better moments I witnessed: Chop Shop’s Ramin Bahrani goading Trouble the Water co-director Tia Lessin to get on her next project immediately. Movie City News’ Kim Voynar and My Winnipeg’s Guy Maddin (whose bitten nails rival my own) jawing at the coffee shop. The near knockdown that some of the Chi-boy critics nearly got into at a morning panel. The meta-meta footage shot of a festival bigwig who shalt remain nameless lest I seem like a mean(er) girl. The heated discussions about the future of criticism and distribution; of who answers or even moderates comments on their blogs; of the relative charms of the various lunches served in the Green Room this year. (I stuck to the tuna nicoise). Festival director Nate Kohn’s persistent, rampant mandal abuse.
And then there was Roger, who was everywhere this year. No longer able to speak, he nonetheless shared his voice graciously—with his handy notepad, with the voice provided by his computer (Laurence Olivier rather than Hal, mind you), with his beaming, bright blue eyes. And, yes, with his thumbs. Thumbs that would give cowgirls not the blues but a nice, envy-spiked green.
It all inspires me, even three weeks later. It’s not been a good year for me, and I fear I’ve been caving to those misfortunes mostly—laughing less, writing less. But knowing that all these characters and their characters have been showing up at the plate and having fun doing it, have been finding ways to tell their stories and share their opinions despite the worsening economy, despite their own personal and public hardships—-well, I’m tired of saying things put me to shame. But it does make me glad.
So 'til next year.
Let’s see what we’ve all done. In and out of the balcony.