Ebertfest 2012: Day 3, Part 1

Film Representatives:

Things started looking up today, Day 3 of Ebertfest, after Patton Oswalt’s unexpected scheduling conflict yesterday. Chaz informed the crowd that Ebert was feeling well and would like to present the first movie himself. This was a real treat for everyone. Again, he walked out to a standing ovation. Humbled, Ebert immediately started waving his hands downward instructing us to remain seated. Not a body in the auditorium answered his request.

Chaz following up Ebert's Presentation
With aid from text-to-speech software, and his wife Chaz, Roger Ebert presented On Borrowed Time, a 2011 film directed by Australian Director David Bradbury. As the title suggests the film is about mortality. This is a documentary film that hits close to home for Roger Ebert in more ways that one. The documentary chronicles Auteur Australian filmmaker Paul Cox as he waits for a liver transplant to save his life after he has been told he has 6 months to live. In this waiting period we view an introspective Paul Cox reflecting on his own mortality, previous events in his life, and his artistic work as a filmmaker.  During his foreboding wait Cox finally gets a call on Christmas Day that a liver with his rare blood type is available.

This film too has a unique relationship with the Ebertfest opening film, Joe Versus the Volcano (1990). Both films subject the matter of a man being sideswiped with impending death and the realization of their own mortality while coming out better after fates rescue. It’s certain that Ebert was very deliberate and cognizant that these two films must play at the festival together.

It is clear this documentary resonates closely to Ebert personally not only because of his own near brushes with death, but also because Roger Ebert and Paul Cox have been great friends since 1983 when they first met at The Chicago International Film Festival, after a screening of Cox’s film Man of Flowers (1983). 

Once the film finished Chaz welcomed Paul Cox to the stage for a Q&A panel, stating that he has been to Ebertfest many time before. With his history at the festival She suggests that an Ebertfest returnee competition should be implemented in the vein of the hosting competition between Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin on SNL. Chaz also makes it clear that the reason Cox wasn't being handed a Gold thumb award is because he has already received one from a past visit, and the award could actually be seen in the On Borrowed Time documentary. I have to admit, I didn't catch the cameo.

Chaz Ebert, Paul Cox, and festival director Nate Kohn
  Photo courtesy of  Reel Times: Reflections of Cinema
The following are some notes from the post-screening discussion with Paul Cox moderated by Chaz Ebert and festival director Nate Kohn.
  • Being a director himself, Cox found it difficult to be on the opposite end of the camera.
  • Cox begged direct David Bradbury to take out footage of the actual transplant operation saying, “That piece of meat was me.” But ultimately concluding that he deserved it after filming so many vulnerable nude scenes in his own films.
  • Some of the narration from the film read by Paul Cox was derived from the book from which he wrote.
  • With a history of being impatient and being a man to never have a true love, Cox implies that his experience has changed him for the better, expressing, “I’ve never loved like I love now.”
  • When asked what 3 films he would like to have in a retrospective of his body of work, he chooses, Vincent (1987), Man of Flowers (1983), A Woman’s Tale (1991), and Innocence (2000). Cox then humorously apologized to Chaz because it would have to be four films screened at his retrospective.

Next up was a screening of Wild and Weird, a collection of short subjects and experimental cinema from the silent era.

"Dream of the Rarebit Fiend" (1906)
Included Shorts -
  • "Dream of the Rarebit Fiend" (1906)
  • "The Red Spectre" (1907),
  • “The Acrobatic Fly” (1910), I guess PETA hates this short.
  • "The Thieving Hand" (1908)
  • "Princess Nicotine or the Smoke Fairy” (1909)
  • "Artheme Swallows His Clarinet" (1912)
  • “The Cameraman’s Revenge” (1912), Stop motion dead insects.
  • “The Pet” (1921), Animated.
  • "Filmstudie" (1926)
  • "The Life and Death of 9413: A Hollywood Extra" (1928)

Before the screening, film Professor David Bordwell from the University of Wisconsin provided a brief history of the silent film era. He compared the early period to YouTube, where most of the subjects are short and humorous. He also gave a rundown of the history of showplaces, starting with nickelodeons to “purpose-built" movie houses and theaters dedicated almost only to films, and finally to the “picture palaces” of the 1920’s, which The Virginia Theatre falls into, built in 1921. Professor Bordwell also provided a history on the different theaters and former theaters in the Champaign-Urbana area, telling us locals that we live in a “layered history of cinema.” That statement made me feel proud in a way.

The short subjects screened with the accompaniment of the three-man musical ensemble, The Alloy Orchestra, who not only performed the pieces, they also wrote them. The Alloy Orchestra is known for using non-conventional instruments in their performances. I over heard a festival attending say that they even use chamber pot in their performances. My ear wasn't keen enough to catch those sounds but I’m certain I heard a theremin, which was exciting. Where each short had its own unique look and style as a short film, The Alloy Orchestra was able to pull each short together, unifying them, while at the same time accentuating their enticing and distinguished differences.

Ben Foutch finished out Day 3 screening of the Iranian film, A Separation (2011). His coverage will appear in Ebertfest Day 3: Part 2.