Ebertfest Notes, Day 2: Want Spike Lee's autograph? Good luck

Ebertfest Notes, Day 2: Want Spike Lee's autograph? Good luck

If you aim to get an autograph on Friday of Ebertfest guest director Spike Lee, you are on your own.

Check out this UI journalism class' social media coverage of Ebertfest here

Ebertfest organizers do not schedule autograph sessions with guests. "We don't do that," festival director Nate Kohn said.

Ebertfest likes to give its guests — directors, actors and others film-industry types — space and time to enjoy the festival and what Champaign-Urbana has to offer. As one Ebertfest-goer said in the deleted scene of festival opener "Life Itself," the Roger Ebert Film Festival is not about "celebrity pushing" or the latest new thing.

It's instead about the movies, many of them overlooked by the general movie-going public, and seeing them along with other film geeks in a darkened theater, in a family atmosphere.

(In fact, most Ebertfest attendees I know talk about the movies we've seen more than the guests.)

Lee, who will be at the festival with "Do The Right Thing," to be shown at 8:30 p.m. today, will be in town for only 12 hours.

The screening is sold out, but people who want to see the 1989 movie may wait in the "rush line" outside the Virginia Theatre to try to buy tickets.

So far at this Ebertfest,  everyone who's waited in the rush line to get into sold-out movies were admitted — some festival pass-holders do not attend every screening, leaving empty seats to fill.

Left speechless

Kicking off Day 2 of Ebertfest on Thursday, festival emcee Chaz Ebert had to explain her behavior of the previous night, when she went on stage after "Life Itself," Steve James's new documentary about her late husband, was shown.

She was to have handled the Q-and-A but was too emotionally overcome and left speechless by watching "Life Itself" with the Ebertfest audience, she said.

"I underestimated how affected I would be watching it with you in the Virginia Theatre, in Roger's hometown of Champaign — actually he would say, 'I'm from Urbana,'" she said, to laughs from the audience.

"I was actually rendered speechless. That's why I couldn't talk, sitting up there," she said. "I realized I had to call Nate back up here."

Many of the people in the Ebertfest audience, she said, have attended every year since the festival started 16 years ago. While watching "Life Itself" with them and others at the Virginia, Chaz Ebert said she realized how much they loved and cared about her late husband and what he said and wrote about movies.

"When I watched the movie with this crowd, I realized just how much we lost," she continued. "We lost a real person, and I, of course, lost my husband and soulmate. I think Roger was not an ordinary man. I recognized it when he was alive, his ability to touch so many people."

Watching "Life Itself" at Ebertfest also sent her back to the day he died, April 4, 2013. She also sensed the Ebertfest audience reacting to the documentary in a much deeper and more profound way than any other "Life Itself" audience she's been in, including at the doc's premiere earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival.

Netflix guy

Stan Lanning, a computer programmer for Netflix, which has been in the news a lot lately, has attended Ebertfest every year for the past eight years.

Why, I asked him Thursday.

"I ask myself that a lot, because it is a hassle," said Lanning, who lives in Santa Cruz, California.

"My answer is Roger's little spiel about experiencing and becoming other people for a little while, while watching movies," he said. "You don't get that often but you get that here, with almost every film, and I love it."

Lanning, though, was a bit mum on what's going on at Netflix. The company that offers movies and TV shows online or streamed will raise its prices by $1 or $2 a month, by the end of June.

Netflix also produces its own original series including "House of Cards" and "Orange is the New Black," both hits. Netflix plans to produce more original series and announced just this week that it will work toward growing internationally by creating its first Spanish-language series, about a family's infighting over the inheritance of a soccer team.

Lanning said he doesn't know much about the Netflix series in development; he maintained he knows as much as anyone who keeps up with the news.

He then mentioned, but in a charming way, how he was trying to remember the Netflix training he received on how to deal with the media.

Survival kit

Urbana artist Glen Davies and his wife, Sandra Wolf, attend Ebertfest every year and usually see all 12 films, which is a rigorous experience for anyone.

Each year they bring a "survival kit" with them.

This year's contains a copy of "Candide" by Voltaire, but Davies said he hasn't read it yet because he enjoys talking to people while waiting in line. Other items in his kit — actually a backpack — are sunglasses, Aleve, wipes, Kleenex, an extra set of eyeglasses, ear plugs, a scarf to use as a seat saver, pens and paper — in case he gets an idea or wants to sketch.

The kit also contains cough drops, mints, his business cards and a bottle of water. And his cellphone.

Three more thoughts

Two thumbs up for Normal artist Rick Harney's sculpture of Roger Ebert, placed in front of the Virginia Theatre on Thursday afternoon. However, Chicago film critic Peter Sobczynski might give it only one thumb up because the piece depicts his late colleague sitting in the middle of three theater seats. "He was always sitting on the aisle seat — that's my only problem with it," Sobczynski said. "Other than that, it's lovely."

If you like the art of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, you must see Jem Cohen's "Museum Hours," filmed in part in the Bruegel room of the Kunsthistorisches museum in Vienna, shown Thursday afternoon at Ebertfest. Extended scenes show a museum guide describing and giving museum visitors detailed information about the artist and his paintings. A briefer scene shows nude museum visitors closely studying the paintings ..

Best quip heard at Ebertfest so far: Upon receiving his "Golden Thumb" award on Thursday afternoon, actor Keith Stanfield said, "Who needs an Oscar?" The "Golden Thumb" is a trophy-like casting of Roger Ebert's thumb, in the up position, of course. All Ebertfest guests receive a "Golden Thumb" after their movies are shown. Stanfield plays the troubled teen, Marcus, in writer-director Destin Cretton's "Short Term 12."


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