I'm writing this the day after first posting this entry. I now regret it. The point I make about artists is perfectly valid but I realize I wasn't prepared with enough facts about the events leading up to the Festival's decision to showcase Tel Aviv in the City-to-City section. I thought of it as an innocent goodwill gesture, but now realize it was part of a deliberate plan to "re-brand" Israel in Toronto, as a pilot for a larger such program. The Festival should never have agreed to be used like this. It was naive for the plan's supporters to believe it would have the effect they hoped for. The original entry remains below. The first 50 or so comments were posted before these regrets.
¶ The tumult continues here about the decision to spotlight Tel Aviv in the City-to-City sidebar program of the Toronto Film Festival. The protesters say the festival is thereby recognizing the "apartheid regime" of Israel. The controversy shows no sign of abating, and indeed on Tuesday it was still big news in the Toronto newspapers, with the Star's front page featuring lineups of those opposing the TIFF decision (including Harry Belafonte, Jane Fonda, Viggo Mortenson, Julie Christie and Danny Glover) and those supporting it (including Jerry Seinfeld, David Cronenberg, Sasha Baron Cohen, Lenny Kravitz, Lisa Kudrow and Natalie Portman).
Seeing a series of exquisitely subtle films that includes Jeff Nichols' "Shotgun Stories," Eran Kolirin's "The Band's Visit" and Bill Forsyth's "Housekeeping," you become sensitized to how clumsy most movies are about unloading their expository details. These Ebertfest films and filmmakers know how to reveal what needs to be revealed indirectly, without the audience necessarily even realizing that it's being let in on a wealth of information.
So: A real-life example of efficient, semi-oblique expository dialog overheard in a restaurant in Champaign-Urbana on a stormy Friday night. A young couple have just arrived and are about to be seated.
Hostess (smiling): "Oh, it's just the two of you tonight."
Man: "Yeah, we popped in a Disney movie and slipped out the side door."
See, that's a little movie right there. Filmmakers, take note: How much do we know about the lives of this man, this woman, and their history with this restaurant from these two short lines?
More about this subject (and others) in further catch-up Ebertfest posts...
Chaz Ebert introduces Timothy Spall (Rosencrantz) and Rufus Sewell (Fortinbras), both in town with the opening night attraction, a full-length (238-minute) 70 mm print of Kenneth Branagh's 1996 film of William Shakespeare's "Hamlet." (photos by jim emerson)
What is Ebertfest without Ebert? Fest? Kicking off the 10th Anniversary edition of Roger Ebert's (formerly Overlooked) Film Festival, Chaz Ebert passed along her husband's sentiments that, today, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time -- that is, in a bed in Chicago instead of in at the Virginia Theatrer in Urbana-Champaign. But, she reported him saying, you could also say the same thing about the day he tripped on the carpet and fractured his hip. Nobody's giving up hope, though. Chaz said they were consulting with doctors day by day and that she wouldn't be surprised if Roger wound up making it here after all before the fest is through. [UPDATE: The next day Roger and his doctors decided that making the trip wasn't worth the health risk.}
L to R (I hope): Jeff Nichols ("Shotgun Stories"), John Peterson ("The Real Dirt on Farmer John"), Eran Kolirin ("The Band's Visit"), Chaz Ebert, Timothy Spall and Rufus Sewell ("Hamlet"), Joan Cohl and Hannah Fisher ("Citizen Kohl"), William J. Erfuth and Joseph Greco and Adam Hammel ("Canvas").
Last year Ebertfest seemed to improve his rate of recovery exponentially, so we can only hope he'll make it to town. (For a sample of good wishes see the comments at his blog, Roger Ebert's Journal.)
So, the festival is just getting started tonight, but already I've learned some things just from talking to people and reading the program. For example:
The 10th Anniversary Ebertfest begins tonight in Urbana-Champaign. It is with some melancholy that I write these words on a legal pad in a hospital bed in Chicago. After consulting with my doctors, I have decided it may not be prudent to try to make the journey today with a fractured hip.
The Prince of Denmark, Yukio Mishima and the Incredible Hulk are planning to convene in Champaign-Urbana, IL, for Roger Ebert's Film Festival (April 23-27, 2008). Joining them (off-screen) for the Ebertfest No. 10 will be directors Paul Schrader, Bill Forsyth, Sally Potter and actors Christine Lahti, Aida Turturro, Joe Pantoliano, among others. The emphasis is still on the (re-)discovery of "overlooked" films (with that term defined however Ebert wants to define it), but the festival is now known simply as Ebertfest. The full schedule is here:
TORONTO, Ont. -- Sometimes in a smaller theater, away from the searchlights and the 24-hour fans making privacy impossible for poor Brad and Angelina, you find an independent film that is miraculous. Such a film is “Chop Shop,” by Ramin Bahrani, the Iran-born American director whose “Man Push Cart” made such a stir three years ago. That film was about an immigrant from Pakistan trying to make a living in New York with a rented coffee-and-bagel cart. It was shot on a shoestring in less than three weeks, and won the critics’ prize at London and three Independent Spirit Awards, including best first feature. It embodied, I said in my review, the very soul of Italian neorealism.