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Haskell Wexler (#110 of 4)

One Month Later: Catching Up with RogerEbert.com Editor-in-Chief Matt Zoller Seitz

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One Month Later: Catching Up with RogerEbert.com Editor-in-Chief Matt Zoller Seitz
One Month Later: Catching Up with RogerEbert.com Editor-in-Chief Matt Zoller Seitz

Around these parts, we’re pretty partial to Matt Zoller Seitz, the pop-culture-obsessed multihyphenate who founded The House Next Door, and either mentored or befriended a great number of House and Slant writers before moving on to develop sites like Press Play and become TV critic for New York magazine. But even for those without any Seitz biases, chances are it’s hard not to admire the guy’s pluck. On July 4, it will have been one month to the day since news officially broke that Seitz had been named editor-in-chief of RogerEbert.com. Of course, despite the massive loss we all suffered when Ebert passed, this job quickly seemed among the most coveted in all of entertainment journalism. And yet, it presented quite an intimidating challenge too. Though both Seitz and Ebert’s widow, RogerEbert.com publisher Chaz Ebert, have stressed that, naturally, no one could ever replace Roger, Seitz has accepted a torch-pass from someone who was rather inarguably the most popular film critic ever, and whose revered position is one of the hardest acts to follow in the history of the profession. But despite the hubbub, hurdles, and pressure that could unnerve even the steeliest pro, Seitz appears to have seized his role with grace and, indeed, guts, which is to say nothing of his recent championing of what might be the most widely-reviled flick of the year.

Those Were the Days: The 15th Annual Ebertfest

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Those Were the Days: The 15th Annual Ebertfest
Those Were the Days: The 15th Annual Ebertfest

You couldn’t help but wonder if this year’s Ebertfest in Champaign, Illinois, near the campus of the University of Illinois, was going to be the last. My first Ebertfest was in 2005, the final year in which Roger Ebert got on stage, introduced the films, and discussed them afterward, the sound of his voice so booming and distinctive it reached all the way to the balcony of the old-timey Virginia Theatre toward audiences who couldn’t quite see the man. Since 2006 and Ebert’s throat surgery, his presence at the festival became increasingly less pronounced, but you still knew, even if only in the abstract, that you were watching movies the famed critic had chosen and reviewed.

So how can you continue to put on a critic’s handpicked film festival when that critic’s hand has ceased to pick out the wheat from the chaff? For the time being at least, Chaz Ebert, Roger’s widow, said on Wednesday night, while introducing Days of Heaven, that before he passed away, Roger wrote up a list for her with movies for next year’s festival, if not for a few more into the future. Moreover, with her announcement of the new Ebertfest app, the redesign of rogerebert.com, the new media company she and Roger developed (Ebert Digital), and the new Roger Ebert film studies program (depending on how much money can be raised) for University of Illinois, it felt like Ebertfest will have the momentum to be powered through the next couple of years, if not all the way to its 20th anniversary and beyond.

My Favorite Film Festival of 2011: Alive and Well, In Love and War, at the TCM Classic Film Festival

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My Favorite Film Festival of 2011: Alive and Well, In Love and War, at the TCM Classic Film Festival
My Favorite Film Festival of 2011: Alive and Well, In Love and War, at the TCM Classic Film Festival

I suppose it’s inevitable that some of the bloom would have come off the rose that was last year’s first annual TCM Classic Film Festival. I am, after all, a year older, and the time spent in between the first festival and this year’s model has found life getting more complicated, with less room for the study of cinema, classic or not, than my selfish patterns would prefer. But just because I may be mired in a sophomore slump of sorts doesn’t mean that in 2011 the TCM Festival was equally bogged down. Familiarity hardly bred contempt this time around, or complacency. If anything, there was a certain comfort factor built into the festival for me this year, a feeling that, while not radiating the kind of freshman excitement generated by last year’s fun (and my own initiation into the rites of festival film-going), certainly resonated with the buzz of discovery, of learning, about films unfamiliar, and blessedly, seemingly genetically remembered, and even of the value of an adrenaline rush of straight-up nostalgia. Without a doubt, this 2011 edition was the film festival experience of the year for me.