Exhausted but happy on Day 2 of Ebertfest

It’s only Day 2 of Ebertfest and I’m zonked.

Like many other festival-goers, I was up until 12:45 a.m. Thursday. As I write this early Thursday evening I’ve seen four movies already.

I’m not complaining.

But I might pass on "Apocalypse Now Redux," which starts 90 minutes from now. Walter Murch, the award-winning British sound and film editor who was to appear after the screening, won’t be here anyway.

He’s the fourth Ebertfest guest to have his flight fall victim to the volcanic ash from Iceland.

Ebert opened his 12th annual festival on Wednesday evening with two non-narrative films. One festival-goer told me he thought that was a brave choice.

A few folks apparently didn’t and walked out on the opener, "Pink Floyd The Wall," the 1982 rock opera in which Bob Geldof plays Pink, a rock star who falls into  visually arresting insanity.

Having had to file a story earlier, I walked into "Pink Floyd" in the middle, when Geldof’s character is shaving his chest and eyebrows in what Ebert calls a bloody reprise of Martin Scorsese’s famous short, "The Big Shave."

The film is shot through with a few other cringe-inducing images and Fascist scenes, among them a political rally that resembles a rock concert.

Ebert farflung correspondent Ali Arikan from Turkey said, "The film doesn’t seem to have a positive view..."

"Of anything," Associated Press film critic Christy Lemire said, finishing his statement.

Lemire, though, loves the film and remembers having watched it with her father when she was younger.

My father, now 88, would NEVER have watched this movie.

Swedish Edward Hopper

Ebert followed it with the 2007 Swedish film "You, the Living," directed by Roy Andersson. He and actress Jessika Lundberg were to appear in person; they were stuck in Sweden, also victims of the volcanic ash.

"We don’t need any ash-covered Swedes to help us out," Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips said while introducing the film.

He returned to the stage after the screening, with film critic Elvis Mitchell, University of Georgia film Professer Richard Neupert, farflung correspondent Gerardo Valero of Mexico City and Ebert, using a laptop and text-to-voice software.

Like some Euro movies, "You, the Living" unfolds in vignettes, with characters recurring from one to the next. The most stunning scene, a dream, shows a bride in white gown and her rock guitarist husband inside an apartment building that moves, with a crowd outside their window peering in and waving at them.

Mitchell said the scene took two months to shoot and involved the construction of a huge building that could be moved on a rail car.

One woman in the audience nailed it when she said the characters in this movie could not connect with each other. Still, the movie was darkly comedic in its depictions of the human condition. Which reminds Phillips of the saying, "What doesn’t happen to you is funny."

Elvis Mitchell said the movie combines "The Far Side" and Ingmar Bergman. I think that's apt.

Mitchell, a former New York Times critic, also was right on in describing the overall look of "You, the Living," as off white. Neupert noted that some viewers have said the characters appear to live next to a nuclear reactor.

Their faces seemed to be covered with white powder.

Ebert used his laptop and software only a few times while on stage; once he prefaced his remarks with the computer-spoken words "cough cough."

Shorts

Ebert is showing before some of the movies shorts from the website www.playingforchange.com. The first was "Stand By Me," which has received more than 19.7 million views on the Internet. It shows street performers worldwide. The second was a reggae performance of "One Love" from Spain.

Ebert and his wife are about peace, love and unity, and I’m not being snide. I like it.

Before showing "One Love," Chaz commented on how cross-generational Ebertfest is. She had four young festival-goers from Oregon (who are playing hookey) stand up to be recognized, and she gave a shout out to the senior citizens who attend as part of Elderhostel.

Speaking of older folks, an older woman fell down the carpeted stairs at the Virginia on Thursday, before the first movie of the day began.

Firefighters and medics carried her out on a stretcher; a Virginia staff member wouldn’t tell me later how the woman was doing. She referred me to the Champaign Park District’s main office, which was closed.

The same thing happened a few years ago at an Ebertfest. To avoid falling on the same stairs, one veteran festival-goer told me she uses both handrails.

After that excitement, Ebert showed the beautifully observed "Munyurangabo," about post-genocide Rwanda. It follows the story of two adolescent boys, one a Tutsi and the other a Hutu, and their friendship.

Their relationship begins to unravel after the Hutu, who had been away from his family for three years, takes his friend home.

Jeff Rutagengwa, who plays the title role, wants to revenge, by machete, the death of his father in the genocide. His friend, Sangwa, plans to help and then bows out. When his father discovers the plan, he beats Sangwa and bans him from their home.

Munyurangabo, though, decides not to kill his father’s killer after discovering him in his hut, dying of AIDS and begging for water.

Director Lee Isaac Chung shot the 97-minute film in Rwanda in 2006 in 11 days, using a translator to work with his cast.

Chung said the opportunity to make the film came to him. His wife has worked summers in Rwanda with a Christian organization; she suggested that her husband go there and while there do "something of worth."

Chung took two friends, Samuel Anderson, who helped him write the screenplay, and Jenny Lund, who was in charge of sound.

Anderson said they based their plot on accounts they had read of Rwandans who were meeting other Rwandans who might have been responsible for the deaths of their loved ones in the 1994 genocide.

To make a naturalistic movie, the filmmakers worked with their cast members, allowing them to put dialogue into their own words. The actors contributed small details to make the movie even more realistic.

"Part of it was we were strategic in casting; we looked for people who fit the story and we incorporated part of their lives into the story," Chung said.

For example, the actor who portrayed Swangba actually had been a runaway who was away from home for three years. And in one scene, a Rwandan poet recited his own poem about his country. The filmmakers included him after learning the poet was to deliver his verse in a huge stadium, before the president of Rwanda.

Remarkable.

Festival director Nate Kohn, who has traveled to Africa, said he saw Africa in the movie.

"I know what it looks like but I so rarely see Africa in motion pictures," Kohn said.

"It doesn’t look like ‘Black Diamonds.’"

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