The unique thing about Ebertfest is that no one is trying to sell their movie, no one is trying to get distribution, no one is trying to get financing. People are here to enjoy the films, catch up with old friends, and make new ones. This might sound uncharacteristically "circle jerkish" ("Look, Ma, new word") of me, but it is the truth. Everyone's in a good mood. And it's great to be back again this year as one of Roger Ebert's "Far-flung correspondents."
Roger and Nate Kohn, the festival director, have put together a fine line-up. We kick off the festivities tonight with the extended cut of Metropolis, with a live-score by The Alloy Orchestra, who will be knackered after hitting pots, pans and sundry for 153 minutes. The word round the campfire is that Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of Ebert Presents At the Movies and Mubi, Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune and Kristin Thompson (whose husband, the good Dr. Bordwell, is unable to attend this year) will be on the panel for Metropolis and it will be fascinating to see who can outnerd each other. The winner gets the Ubernerd trophy.
Then, we have the SXSW smash Natural Selection. The writer-director Robbie Pickering and the star of the film Rachael "Homina Homina" Harris will be on stage afterwards to talk about the film. I'd like to say I will report on this most fascinating panel tomorrow, but that would be a lie because I will spend the whole time ogling Harris. I am nothing if not one hundred percent honest with you, gentle reader.
Earlier today, I met up with our own Kenji Fujishima, and two of my fellow FFCs, Michael Mirasol of The Philippines and Gerardo Rivera of Mexico, and their lovely wives, to go to the infamous Steak 'n Shake for a burger. A great turn-out of the who's who of the crème de la crème of the chattering classes this year: Matt Seitz and Sarah Bunting are here, and also The Odienator and Kevin Lee. I think this might be the largest gathering of THND contributors outside of our glorious leader Keith Uhlich's traditional May-Ham potlucks. Alas, we are missing a few familiar names this year. Apart from Dr. Bordwell, our friends Jim Emerson and Kim Morgan can't make it, but we hope to see them again next year (if not earlier).
Even though the festival proper kicks off later this afternoon at the Opening Gala at the University of Illinois President's House, I've already sat on one panel last night. The College of Media put together a free screening of American Movie as a warm-up for the festivities ahead, and I was asked to take part in a panel with Mark Borchardt and Professor Erik Pierson of San Diego. Alas, there were problems with my connections and when I arrived last night at the Foellinger Auditorium, the closing credits were almost over. Thinking ahead (which is very unlike yours truly), I had seen the film earlier this week, and was able to conjure a few comments slightly more interesting than "Erm, isn't it really funny when that Mike guy starts giggling?"
Mark Borchardt still cuts a fascinating figure. He is loquacious, his knowledge of cinema is encyclopaedic, and his spirit is as indomitable as in American Movie. During the Q&A, he said that he had not seen the film in years, but it was obvious he relished the experience of going back all those years with an audience in tune with the film. He is around today, as well, and I've run into him and his son a few times at the Illini Hotel. Truly a great guy.
I will be posting daily dispatches from the fronts, and, if I have the time, I might also upload a video or two. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go make myself look respectable because I intend to hit on Rachael Harris. Giggidy.
Ali Arikan is the author of Cerebral Mastication. Follow his updates on Twitter.