By David Poland email@example.com
It was a long trip to Champaign-Urbana from Los Angeles today. But it was too long a trip for Roger Ebert to make, laid up in his hospital room, still pressuring his doctors to give him a greenlight to bring his broken hip to his hometown for even a few hours at his namesake film festival.
It’s the 10th anniversary of Ebertfest and while last year felt a bit like a tribute to Roger himself – many of his closest filmmaker friends brought films and his own screenplay effort, Beyond The Valley of the Dolls, was shown – this year feels more like the festival Roger and his top sidekick, Nate Kohn, have programmed for years… films that have very mixed reputations, but play at their best with the warm embrace of Roger to offer this audience the reasons why they should love the films as well.
Roger’s wife, Chaz, will serve as lead host, as she did last year with Roger in attendance. Her opening remarks at today’s pre-show cocktail were very emotional and sweet and expressed what many of us in town for yet another year felt. Roger’s physical absence, combined with the permanent loss of “co-conspirator” Dusty Cohl, just feels odd and, as Chaz said, melancholic.
This is not the first Ebertfest at which I have seen every film programmed. And it’s an odd coincidence that I just sat down for a “Lunch” with Tarsem Singh, that one of my favorite “Lunches” of last year was with Ang Lee, who is going to be here with Hulk, and that another was with John Turturro for Romance & Cigarettes.
But coming to Ebertfest long ago stopped being about business for me. It’s a trip to Southern Illinois to have an annual reunion with a part of my family. I’ve never been particularly close with Roger & Chaz… though they have been very generous to me over many years now. I was closer with Dusty… and am thrilled to have a chance to spend some time with his wife, the amazing Joan. But I have not had a lot of mentors in my life’s work. Both men have been, when they knew it and when they didn’t, filling that slot in various ways. And there are others… friends from here who I see every year… friends that I have traveled with on The Floating Film Festival… friends from the journalistic and industry trenches.
You can be a fan or not a fan of Roger Ebert. But you can’t deny, when you are here – even when he is absent physically – his passion and commitment to film. In many ways, his absence, which we all hope will be brief, feels like a call for all of us who might push forward to find ways to bring similar passion to our circles of the world to do so.
To do any less would just be unrogerlike.