One of the highlights of living in this small Midwestern college town is the Roger Ebert Overlooked Film Festival, which kicks off Wednesday night and concludes Sunday. Ebert grew up in Urbana, graduated from high school and college here, first fell in love with film here and got his first job writing for newspapers here, going from a grade school newsletter to high school, college and then the daily newspapers.
This is the 8th annual festival, held at the historic Virginia Theater, one of the grand old movie palaces built 75 years ago. The theater has been undergoing restoration, and in some ways (it has more rest rooms) is in better shape now than when it was built. It still has a working pipe organ, with the console on a hydraulic lift coming up out of the floor between shows with Warren York at the keyboard.
After the first couple of years, I started blocking off Thursday and Friday as vacation days to try to get in as many movies as I can. As usual, there are a few things that have crept onto my calendar, so I won't be able to take in every event, but I plan to go to most of the movies and panel discussions and hang around for the after-show discussions, which are sometimes more interesting than the movies.
I will never forget one of the great experiences of my life two years ago when the director, Werner Herzog, was here for the showing of his movie, Invincible. American television audiences became familiar with Herzog a few months ago when his documentary, Grizzly Man, was shown on the Discovery Channel, but he has been well known to movie afficionados for years. He was in the middle of the jungle in South America, filming, and took two days to get to our little town, traveling by boat, helicopter and plane to make it. There was a late showing of his movie, which didn't end until after 11:00 p.m. and then he stayed around until after 1:30 a.m. answering questions from the audience and talking with Ebert. Although the hour was late, hardly anyone left because they were so engrossed in the conversation.
My friend, p.g., who is a professional movie critic, and I plan to blog extensively about Ebertfest. He has started a new blog,Ebertfest, to which I also have a link under the "Blogs I Read" section to the right, and to which I, and others will contribute. He and I usually disagree on everything, and even when we agree, we find some way to argue about it. So take a look at his blog, too, if you have any interest in movies. Or in watching two adults argue like little kids. The problem with blogging will be that there really is hardly any time between the movies and after movie discussions to do anything, including getting a bite to eat. So, I'm not sure exactly when I will get the time to write a blog entry.
The movies this year are as follows:
Wednesday 7:30 p.m. My Fair Lady. What's overlooked about My Fair Lady you may legitimately ask. "Overlooked" has come to mean whatever Roger Ebert wants it to mean; after all it's his festival. It has become customary to lead off the festival with a restored 70 mm spectacle on Wednesday evenings. The Virginia still has its original projector capable of showing 70 mm films, and seeing movies like Lawrence of Arabia two years ago or Patton four years ago the way they were meant to be seen on a wide screen gave me a new appreciation of what we are missing in the digital generation, watching movies in multiplexes with tiny screens or at home on televisions. The guests for this screening will include Marni Nixon, the voice behind not only Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, but also Natalie Wood in West Side Story and many others.
Thursday 1:00 p.m. Man Push Cart
Thursday 4:00 p.m. Duane Hopwood
Thursday 8:30 p.m. Spartan
Friday 1:00 p.m. Somebodies This movie is produced by Nate Kohn, another Urbana boy made good, who is director of the Festival.
Friday 4:00 p.m. The Eagle, starring Rudolph Valentino, accompanied by the Alloy Orchestra
Friday 8:00 p.m. Ripley's Game, starring John Malkovich, who is supposed to be here. Malkovich is a semi-local-boy-made-good, having been born in Illinois and attended Eastern Illinois University and Illinois State University, two colleges about 50 miles from here, and, of course, first having come to prominence as an actor with Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater.
Saturday Noon Millions
Saturday 3:00 p.m. Claire Dolan
Saturday 7:30 p.m. Junebug
Saturday 10:30 p.m. Bad Santa
Sunday Noon U-Carmen eKhayelitsha
It's going to be a fun few days. I can hardly wait.