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EBERTFEST Day 2: Last Frames

April 24, 2010

Roger and me at Ebertclub breakfast, Ebertfest 2010

Day 2 started with a bang…and early, at 8:30am. Roger and Chaz kindly hosted a Meet & Greet breakfast for the Ebertclub members and Foreign Correspondents at the hotel. A panel discussion was also starting at 9:30am on “Getting the Damn Thing Made” which proved to be very interesting from what I heard. As difficult as it was, I chose an extra 15 minutes of sleep, and time to write up Day 1 of Ebertfest over the panel, and that still meant I got to the breakfast too late for any coffee to be left. Damn, when it rains it pours.

Then, Roger and Chaz showed up. What ensued was an hour of hanging out with the Eberts, the FCCs, other club members, and Vincent the-man-in-colorful-suits. Gerardo, the Foreign  Correspondent from Mexico, along with his wife Monica gave Roger some beautiful art pieces they prepared themselves. It was a moment of genuine affection and Roger and Chaz were very touched. Also, a photo was finally taken of Roger and me. For me, the photo is just a token of the blossoming of a great friendship and mentorship that I treasure deeply. Roger is the real deal – the kindness, generosity, and wisdom you see, is exactly what you get. And he expects the same in return. That’s the beauty of it – you never have to pretend with Roger, you only have to be you.

Nate Kohn, Lee Isaac Chung, Samuel Gray Anderson, Jenny Lund, Omar Moore, SeongYong Cho

Enough of that mushiness. Onto the first film of the day – Munyurangabo (2007), a beautiful film shot in 11 days on location in Rwanda, with no professional actors, nine pages of story outlines and a crew of three, including the director Lee Isaac Chung, a Korean-American who was prompted to go to Rwanda in the first place out of obligation to accompany his wife who got a job there. After deciding to teach a film course to local students, he and his team came up with the idea to shoot a film during their time there. Considering that this is a directorial debut, the amount of technical control and artistic vision here is astounding. It is so precise, so genuine, so understated. This is my third time seeing it in the past two weeks (as a subscriber to FilmMovement I got the DVD in mail) and it just keeps getting better. Each frame is necessary and contributes actively to the film as a whole. There is not a single wasted shot, a frame out of focus. Chung has a natural instinct in framing that reminds me of great directors like Wong Kar-Wai and Scorsese. He plays with lights and shadows, and show perspective through hidden cracks, a doorway, a barred window. There is one shot where Sangwa, one of the main characters, is gazing shyly at a girl at the local well, and the shot frames the girl in foreground right, Sangwa further back on the left, and in the sliver of space in between them — we see a silhouette of a woman working in the field, possibly his mother — the past and the future, and Sangwa in precisely in between, gazing into his potential future. Chung is restrained in handling of dialogue. Not a lot is spoken, but we learn exactly what we are suppose to in order to keep up. Excellent directing is clear as day when it works, and when it elevates the film. Here, Chung does exactly that.

I skipped The New Age to nap and rest up for Apocalypse Now Redux, and man am I glad I did.

This is my first time seeing Apocalypse Now, any version of it, ever. In one way, I feel very lucky to be able to see it this way, as this is the purest cinema going experience one can probably have – on the big screen with a packed crowd. When the curtains opened all the way to the end…my heart just soared. The screen is massive and I was sitting 5 to 6 rows back left center, it felt like IMAX. In another way, however, I was disappointed with the Redux version, despite having not even seen the original. The film is absolutely gorgeous – we all know that. The rich color palette, the majestic cinematography, the locations, etc. All ace. The Redux version, though, was simply too long, to the point that it lost some of its emotional impact for me. And the scenes that I felt the most drag in turned out to be most of the added scenes – ones in the French compound, the playboy bunnies, and the last 30 minutes in the temple leading up to the ending. It just felt…not lean enough, mean enough. None of the scenes were bad in a cinematic sense — they were greatly shot — they just didn’t, in my opinion, add much at all to the rest of the film, and they were not necessary to the story. It felt excessive. It felt like beating a dead shoe to death (can you even do that? I don’t know where I heard this). It felt…long. I do enjoy the ending though – the last frames.

And honest to god, as I’m typing these last few letters, it is 3:46am and I have to be up in 4 hours and 14 minutes and my eyelids simply cannot hold themselves open any longer. So I bid you adieu, and promise to regale you with beautiful photos of steakburgers, milkshakes, the Foreign Correspondents Panel discussion, and “Departure” thoughts in due time soon.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 24, 2010 11:43 AM

    Nice picture of you and Ebert, Grace. Maybe destined to become as famous as this photo. ^__^

  2. Jeff permalink
    April 25, 2010 9:07 PM

    Grace, thanks for the great posts and photos on Ebertfest!
    Great to have you visit us here in Champaign and hope you will make it a yearly ritual for the festival.

    Grace: thanks Jeff, I had an amazing time!

  3. April 26, 2010 9:17 PM

    Hi Grace.

    I had to do it the other way around, skipping Munyurangabo to VPN to my company’s server and get work done that colleague’s needed plus a nap to get through Apocalypse Now.

    I’ve seen both versions, including the original when it first came out. You are absolutely right. The addes scenes actually degrade the film. For example, the Playboy bunnies onstage in front of the screamng GI’s is an iconic scene, but the long muddled scene with the boat crew was pointless. As was the French plantation scene. Col Kilgore and the surfer and the napalm is the iconic scene that captures the madness of war. Keep that, and cut the rest. Leaner, yes.

    For me, this viewing, it was about Capt. Willard’s (Sheen) emotional pain – kept at bay with the intensity of “mission”, which many people do.

    And about Col Kurtz’s (Brando) total embrace of “the horror” of war as it’s ultimate repudiation.

    That’s just me. Mostly, my rear end was sore in those seats for 3 1/2 hours…

  4. April 26, 2010 9:46 PM

    I have yet to see any version of Apocalypse Now, but as it’s partly based on one of my favorite short stories (“Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad), I’m sure it won’t be long before I check it out. From the comments here, it sounds like the original version of Apocalypse Now is better than the Redux version. And for those of you who haven’t read “Heart of Darkness,” I highly encourage you to read it. It’s great stuff.

  5. April 26, 2010 11:47 PM

    Just saw the Far-Flung Correspondents panel online. Favorite moment: when Omer said, “I don’t know if you’ve read Grace’s blog. She’s a beautiful, beautiful writer.”

    I agree. :-) Congratulations, Grace!

    Great panel discussion from everyone, by the way. Hopefully everyone on the panel will read my comment here so that I don’t have to post this on everyone’s blog. :-P

    Now, get some sleep. ;-)

    Grace: What I wanted to but failed to say is that everyone on the panel is an exceptional writer in his own right. Omer was very kind, and so are you.

    • April 27, 2010 5:37 PM

      Kind, and we know talent when we see it. :-) And you’re welcome.

      I know what you mean, though. I started reading Michael Mirasol’s blog while he was at Ebertfest, and I felt like I experienced Ebertfest right alongside him. Same with your blog. Same with Randy’s (though more for his pictures, which are worth a thousand words). And every time I read the Far-Flung Correspondents page, I never think, “Well, this was written by an amateur film critic,” or “This was written by a professional.” I think, “I have to put that movie on my list,” or “That’s a really interesting point.” or “I never thought of that before.”

      And I have to say, to be in the mix with this group of incredibly talented people, even in some small way, is a real privilege, just as finding a writing group here in Seattle composed of a bunch of talented writers is a privilege. And I think, for that, we all have to thank Roger Ebert. Well, maybe not for the writers’ group in Seattle, but all the rest. ;-)

      Finally, I wrote down the films that all of you mentioned during your discussion concerning a film from each home nation that every American should see. I’ll be taking a little break from borrowing movies from the library in order to finish reading The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, but you can be sure that I will be seeking those movies out once I’ve finished that monster of a book.

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