Ebertfest: Day Two
For the next few days Austin Lugar, will share his experiences at the 13th annual Ebertfest held in Champaign, Illinois. He’ll be giving short film reviews and reactions to the festival. For more random comments about the weekend, follow him on Twitter at @AustinLugar.
Today, it was time to pay dues. Jake and I happily stood in line for a couple of hours to preserve good seats for today’s films. Waiting for hours outside of a theater does not sound ideal, but this is why I like smaller festivals. When it’s a smaller venue, it’s easier to interact with new people. We met a really cool guy who is very well read and actually played baseball with Stuart Kaminsky.
Why events like this and Magna cum Murder are so beloved is because of these chance encounters. I was not here last time, but there is one film that everyone is still talking about one year later. It was the wonderful Japanese film “Departures,” which won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2009. The way everyone is talking about how surprised they were by it and how much it affected them is why we’re all here. We all love movies, and the opportunity to see films that we haven’t heard of is a nice treat that will stick with us for a long time.
The first film was the Italian neorealist classic “Umberto D.” I had seen it before, but it’s one that most of the audience hasn’t. It’s from director Vittorio De Sica, best known in this country as the man behind “Bicycle Thieves.” The story is about an older man who is struggling to stay afloat. He is losing his home and money seems impossible. He has a dog as his faithful companion, but he may even lose that.
The crowd really seemed to react to this movie. The ending is very powerful, and a few members of the panel admitted to crying backstage even though they have seen the film before. The panel ended up being very odd/entertaining. Ignatiy Vishnevetsky returned to talk about the film with more critics and the director of “My Dog Tulip,” Paul Fierlinger.
Having Fierlinger on the panel makes a lot of sense considering “Tulip” is also about an older man and his dog. Yet Fierlinger hadn’t seen “Umberto D.” before this afternoon and he wasn’t that big of a fan. Fierlinger kept insisting that this was a pre-war film despite the fact that it was filmed in 1952. Vishnevtsky was very confused by this. The crowd became split as people kept arguing both sides. A winner was determined after iPhone research determined this was in fact a post-war film. Fierlinger admitted defeat … eventually.
“My Dog Tulip”
Despite how goofy Fierlinger was, I was still really looking forward to his film more than any other in the festival. The trailer was really good, and the reviews have been fantastic. Sure enough, this was something special. The animated style was mostly hand-drawn (with some help from computers), and the whole film was drawn and colored by Fierlinger and his wife.
Christopher Plummer voiced author J.R. Ackerley, who befriends his German shepherd, Tulip. I’m a big dog fan, and this film captured some of the elements that are ignored in other films. Loyalty is easy to capture, but not many films talk about how often these dogs go to the bathroom. Ackerley’s prose is so wonderful, and Fierlinger kept everything vibrant by using the animation to be creatively inventive.
The film is a delight and worth checking out when it comes out on DVD in the next month.
The panel afterward revealed that the pre-war/post-war debate was just a foreshadowing of what to come. Fierlinger told some of the greatest stories without any restraint. He told a long, scathing story about how much of a intolerable diva Plummer was during the voice recording. Then, to end the panel, he told a story about how he had to have his dog put down and then he ended up eating that dog. The crowd enjoyed the two-hour ode to canines, but that story made them a little uneasy.
There was a long break before the final film of the day — the critical hit “Tiny Furniture.” This is another film in the ever-expanding genre of twentysomethings not knowing to do with their lives. Lena Dunham, the star/writer/director, was very smart in knowing how to do a different take on it. Instead of romanticizing that lifestyle to make her character seem deep and misunderstood, she really amplifies her pathetic nature.
It was still a very funny movie with clever use of references. Instead of a Diablo Cody script where everyone is as witty as can be, the references really reflect what type of characters these people are. The rest of the jokes were very organic in that they did not require artificial setups or big setpieces; they were all realized characters bouncing off each other.
It does fall into a few of the tropes of films of this genre, but for every misstep, there is something else that really works. I can’t wait to see the next Dunham project because I feel she’s only going to get better.
Unfortunately, Dunham was not able to make it this night, but another actor, David Call, was present, as was the distributor for IFC. Together, they were able to talk about what a great shoot it was and how they were able to do things with a very minimal budget. There was a lot of discussion over the film’s ending — which could have been stronger — but that was more of a reactionary thing since it just aired minutes before.
Today (I apologize for the lateness of this right up) is an exciting day. Three films I haven’t seen before: “45365,” “Me and Orson Welles” and “Only You.” Special guests will include Richard Linklater and Norman Jewison.