I met Tom Dark at Ebertfest the same year I met Roger Ebert there. Unlike Ebert, who I didn’t meet until the second day of the festival, I met Tom on the first day, between showings of Metropolis and Natural Selection. At the time, I wasn’t sure I was going to seek him out, as he had been a bit of a dick lately on Twitter. Convinced by a mutual friend that he was not like that in real life, I decided to approach him if I saw him. Here is what happened:
During the intermission, I heard that Tom Dark was lurking around, and in fact I saw him on the way back from somewhere, talking to vanyc. When I went up to him, he said, “And who’s this?”
“Litdreamer,” I said, and stuck out my hand.
That caused Tom’s face to light up as he gave me a big bear hug and said, “Now we have someone to pick on,” and playfully shouldered me. Then he told me, “It was all in fun. I hope you know that. Thanks for being a good sport.”
Soft spoken, kind, like a big teddy bear. And as I walked away to head back to my seat, I found myself faced with the impossible task of trying to rectify the cursing curmudgeon on Twitter with the soft-spoken, sweet man I had just met. I guess the Internet does turn people into trolls.
Two years later, I still can’t think of a better way to describe him. He was also intelligent, a good writer, an excellent storyteller, and a bit of a conspiracy theorist, which is usually when I would ignore him on Twitter. He was a curmudgeon, but a likeable curmudgeon. And after all the picking he had done on me before the festival, he wrote this about me on his blog, which I took as a high compliment:
Owing to the insolently slow progress of my own Secret Plan for Global Domination, I can afford to skewer the odd ego now and then – even relentlessly – without fear of consequences. “Careful who I may meet on the way back down”? Fiddlesticks.
Take, for example, Greg Salvatore, @litdreamer on Twitter. He’s here too. I’ve been waving my “VIP” pass gaily in his face and monkeyshining about the free food I get. He’s a good sport. Tip: whether you’re on the top or the bottom of the banana, don’t attack people you don’t think you’d love in other circumstances.
(And yes, he did wave his VIP pass in my face. That bastard. ;-))
When Ebertfest ended, I still hadn’t gotten my photo taken with the man, and I had to head to the airport. Luckily (and most things in my life have happened because of luck), he was right outside the theater, and I was able to get this wonderful photo with him, my last picture from Ebertfest:
Almost two hours ago, I discovered that my friend, Tom Dark, has died. I have no details of how he died, or where, or when. I can only assume it happened tonight. Like with Ebert, I found out through Twitter. It seems unfair that both men would die the same year, and yet oddly appropriate, since Tom came to “Internet fame” through him.
I have yet to go back to Ebertfest. I was thinking I might go back next year if I don’t decide to visit my brother and his wife on the East Coast. I will be turning 35 during the festival, and I can’t think of a better group of people to celebrate it with. It just saddens me that two of the people I hoped would be there won’t be able to make it.
Rest in peace, you big teddy bear. What I wouldn’t give to hear the conversations you’re having with Roger now.
I checked out this morning from Eastland Suites, and while I put my key card in my jacket pocket, it must have fallen out as I exited the room. I could not find it, even when I retraced my steps, so I know it fell out before I reached the hallway. I told the guy at the reception desk; he said not to worry about it.
(As I haven’t been charged anything to replace the key, I’m assuming they found it.)
@Plaidgirl picked me and @vanyc up from the hotel, but made fun of how many suitcases I had with me (only two). Donny and Anne came later.
Brunch was at the Emerald City Lounge (a buffet), and @Plaidgirl paid for everyone before we knew what she was doing. Also, they served bacon. 😉 Before heading to the theater, I transferred my luggage to Donny and Anne’s rental, having to put up with some more ribbing from @Plaidgirl.
Anyway, we ran into a few people outside the theater before the movie began, including Tom, Grace, Michael, and Pablo. Grace was taking photos with her driver, so I took the opportunity to get another photo with her, Susan, Michael, and Pablo. While I had met Pablo during karaoke, being introduced to him by Michael probably made me stand out a bit more than a random introduction in a dimly lit bar. At the time, I still hadn’t heard about his love of Satoshi Kon films; otherwise, we would have clicked even more. What we did discuss was his crying onstage during the panel. Michael was jealous in that people would remember that 🙂
As Michael hadn’t met some of the other people we sat with in the balcony, he came up to visit a few minutes before the film began, along with his wife. We shifted our seats slightly, in that on Sunday, we could sit in the first balcony row, which had the added bonus of more legroom than the seats we had sat in previously. My pictures still looked like crap, though.
Before the film was introduced, a special Golden Thumb was given to Mary Susan Britt, who is the Associate Festival Director at Ebertfest, for all her hard work in making sure the festival runs smoothly.
Then came the introduction for the only film of the day and the last film of Ebertfest: Louder Than a Bomb. Chaz teared up in introducing this film because one of the directors of this documentary, Jon Siskel, is Gene’s nephew.
“Gene would’ve been so proud!” Chaz said.
Poetry slams were invented in Chicago in 1986. Louder Than a Bomb is the largest of these slams. The film follows several of the participants and schools in the 2008 Louder Than a Bomb Poetry Slam in Chicago, which pitted sixty high schools against each other. Who would win this time? In 2007, Steinmetz won, even though it was the first year that school had entered.
I don’t think I’ve heard so much clapping during a film. Poetry slams are poems meet performance art, and some of the poems and the performances in this movie are breathtaking. Nova Venerable has a younger brother with special needs, and while she often writes about her absent father, the poem she chose to write about her brother for the competition is as well-written and moving as anything you will see or hear in the literary canon (especially as she performs it). Adam Gottlieb performs with so much charisma that a full performance of one of his poems, coming near the center of the film, got the biggest applause of all the performances (including from me). Forget high school; I can’t write like that now! Nate Marshall, who acts as a mentor to some of his younger team members, performs the last poem in the film — which is fitting, considering that the subject is the Louder Than a Bomb Poetry Slam itself. The poem starts by saying how great he is, then gives way to humility for his fellow contestants in a dizzying array of words.
Though this is a competition, contestants are reminded that, “The point isn’t the point. The point is the poetry.” In fact, poetry slams are a trick to get students to write, perform, and appreciate poetry.
Lamar Jordan, one of the “Steinmenauts,” did not adhere to this philosophy. In the film, he only wants to win. During the panel discussion after the film, however, he admitted that he has changed his mind on that matter, and now believes that the point is the poetry, as well as believing it’s unfair to assign points to poetry.
After giving the Golden Thumb Awards to Greg Jacobs and Jon Siskel, Chaz introduced the rest of the panel: Kevin Coval (founder), Grace Wang (wearing her red shoes), and the Steinmetz team: Lamar Jordan, Charles Smith, She’Kira McKnight, Kevin Harris, and Jésus Lark. When introducing Grace, Chaz mentioned that she is also a poet, at which Grace smiled and vigorously shook her head.
“I think she’s a poet, a lawyer, and a film critic,” Chaz continued.
During the Q&A, Kevin mentioned that Louder Than a Bomb was started in 2001. Currently, about 72 teams compete. He also mentioned, later on, that the best poets often lose the poetry slam.
When Chaz mentioned that none of the faces on the Steinmetz team are what people would think of when thinking of the face of a poet, Lamar answered that he doesn’t believe there should be one face you think of when you think of a poet.
“I think anyone can be a poet, and I think that’s part of the thing that makes poetry so beautiful,” he explained.
When asked about future projects, Greg Jacobs said that this project was like being in a really good relationship.
“You don’t ask, ‘Who else can I hook up with?’” he continued.
Finally, when asked about their influences, the Steinmetz team mentioned Pablo Neruda, Maya Angelou…and Adam Gottleib. Apparently, he is as unique in real life as he appears in the film. Jésus mentioned that, one time, people were rapping, and Adam appeared out of nowhere…and started accompanying them on a flute.
“Who pulls out a flute?” he said.
Sadly, Donny, Anne, and I had to head to the airport before the Q&A was finished, which also meant that we missed the performances (which the sound and picture quality online can’t do justice to). When Anne mentioned that we had to leave no later than 3:00, panic hit my stomach with a pang of sadness. I realized I’d have no time to say goodbye to everyone (particularly Grace, who was still onstage), and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to grab Tom for one last picture. Also, the finality that the festival was over sunk in, and it sucked.
Around 2:45, we said goodbye to our section, though I was too far away to give a hug to our fellow Tweeters, and we headed out the door. Luckily, Tom was outside, so I got to take this photo with him right before we left.
On the car ride to Indianapolis, we talked about various things, including how Donny came up with the idea for Tweetplays (basically, he was bored), and how, next year, we’re flying out on Monday. As we passed bales of hay, and cows, and flat land, I took a nap.
We parted at the airport, and I once again went through the full body scan (though a different machine) with two of the funniest TSA agents I’ve ever seen. A sense of humor goes a long way, but I still think full body scans are bullshit. And my flight was delayed. Luckily, that didn’t translate into another night at the airport.
I had a short stopover in Denver (they were boarding as I entered the gate), and I had to have my ticket reprinted, since they only gave me one ticket for two flights in Indianapolis, and the agent had taken that ticket from me. Back in Seattle, one of my housemates drove me home. Along with all the memories and photos I brought from Ebertfest was the knowledge that I would be starting my new job tomorrow. Reality had made its return.
It has now been almost a month-and-a-half since I went to Ebertfest, so I must applaud any of you who are still reading this. While the festival is certainly about the movies, it’s more about the people. In my mind, that’s what differentiates it from SIFF. Sure, there are people to meet at SIFF, but no one applauds at SIFF when a special guest’s name appears on the opening credits, and those guests don’t always mingle with other theater-goers. On his excellent blog, Kenji talks about how Ebertfest “reawaken[ed] my awareness of the pleasures of the cinematic theatrical experience.” And that is a credit to the people who watch these films. Sure, without good films, good audiences wouldn’t matter, but without good audiences, good films would never be made.
Ebertfest 2011 was dedicated to the memory of Claude Chabrol, Jill Clayburgh, Tony Curtis, Blake Edwards, Dennis Hopper, Sidney Lumet, and Arthur Penn. In that same vein, I would like to dedicate these Ebertfest posts to everyone I met at the festival, especially my fellow Tweeters, the Far-Flung Correspondents, and — most of all — to Roger and Chaz Ebert. And for those of you who couldn’t make it to the festival this year, I hope to see you next year. Until then.
I woke up at 7:30, already deciding that, while I would go to the first panel this morning, I would find someplace to take a nap for the second one. At least I’ll be able to get some sleep tonight, as I won’t be going to any panels tomorrow, and the first film is at 11 am.
During breakfast at the hotel, I saw highlights of the royal wedding (I heard later that some people stayed up and watched the wedding live). V joined me and told me that she got a room for Friday.
Unfortunately, the maid was in the room when I headed back, so I had to wait until she was finished before I could brush my teeth. As a result, I almost missed the shuttle. In the shuttle, I ended up talking to a couple (looked like they were in college) who mentioned how great it was that Ebert alone picks the films for the festival, rather than having some committee do it.
The first panel was called Ebert Presents: Reinventing the TV Show in the Digital Age. Before it began, I saw some very tired Ebert Presents hosts outside. Then again, they had both gone to karaoke. And Christy stayed up to watch the wedding. In fact, most of the people looked a little ragged — except Ali. He had on running shorts and seemed full of energy. I remember hearing about his legendary energy at last year’s Ebertfest. It seems that it’s true.
I went to get my seat with V. Kenji also joined us. Before the panel began, I saw Grace Wang standing with Tom Dark. She looked just as I expected her to, except more awake than I thought someone who had recently come back from China would look. I pointed her out to the other two, but they hadn’t met her yet. Tom saw me and waved. I waved back.
Of the two panels I saw, this one was the livelier of the two. The panel included (l-r): David Poland, Matt Zoller Seitz (who came a little late), Dann Gire (spelled wrong on his namecard), Kartina Richardson, Matt Singer, Allison Bailes, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, and Christy Lemire. Dann Gire, in particular, made some excellent points on why criticism still matters and how big movie companies control the market. Concerning the former topic, Christy pointed out, “We’re not curing cancer,” but some other people on the panel thought that criticism may, in fact, be just as important (unfortunately, it appears as though the sound on this panel wasn’t working properly). Another topic concerned reading criticism of oneself online, something that Ignatiy and Kartina admitted doing.
The most lively discussion, however, had to do with how films are distributed. Independent filmmakers are trying to expand their market by using new media (such as the Internet), while big companies are trying to take over more markets so that they can charge more per service.
Chaz moderated, and started off by saying that they were still friends with Elvis Mitchell, Michael Phillips, and A.O. Scott, since rumors have swirled about why they aren’t included in the new show. She kept the panel going, and also kept the questions from the audience moving. During the middle of the discussion, Roger moved to the center aisle and took photos of the panel. At one point, he was standing next to my row, only one chair away from me.
When the panel was over, I saw Grace waiting to say hi to Roger. She had a huge smile on her face. I knew it would be a touching moment, but I couldn’t get my camera out fast enough. So instead, I merely watched as he noticed her, she opened her arms, he opened his arms, they met in the middle, and gave each other a big hug. She also saw Chaz and gave her a hug, too. At this point, I headed over in her direction, eager to introduce myself.
Around this time, the guests for the next panel were filing into the room. I saw Grace heading past me as I walked up to the front. Now normally, I don’t call out people’s names in public places, as I don’t like drawing attention to myself. But there was no way in hell I was letting her walk past me, unnoticed.
“Grace!” I yelled.
She looked around and saw me. I stuck out my hand and said, “Hi, I’m Greg Salvatore, also known as litdreamer.”
“Oh, hi!” she said, smiling broadly. “You made it!”
Then Kenji came over and introduced himself. She said she had kind of recognized us from our photos online. That is also when Kenji mentioned that Michael was meeting him and a few other people for lunch, if we wanted to go. Grace didn’t have Michael’s number, so she gave her number to Kenji so that he could text her when Michael arrived. I then took off, saying I was going to find a comfortable chair in the lobby to sleep in until then.
My nap was fitful, even though the chair was comfortable. I also woke up at one point (I hadn’t really been asleep) because I heard Grace’s voice nearby. She was with a guy I had seen around before (he came to karaoke), but hadn’t met. She introduced us, saying that I was one of her blog readers “since the beginning.” This touched me, as she said it with real gratitude, as if the success of her blog were all due to me. The guy was Kevin Lee, here for Fandor.com. They went to talk and wait outside, while I went back to my nap.
Unfortunately, I got up and took an ill-timed bathroom break later. When I returned to the lounge, I saw that Michael was outside, having collected a bunch of people to go to lunch. Unfortunately, there was no more room in their car, so I made sure to get the name of the restaurant they were going to (Black Dog, which you can read about here) and said I would catch up with them later. Unbeknownst to me, my usual ride had decided to take the day off. While waiting to see if anyone was going there for lunch, I ran into Russell again (Olivia’s husband) — though I had to stand upwind from him so as not to have smoke blown in my face.
When the panel ended, I found and then lost V, who told me that our usual ride wasn’t coming. We ended up walking from campus to the Aroma Cafe. Having not gotten much sleep, I was very chatty. If I had walked with me, one of the me’s wouldn’t have survived. I also looked for a surcharge free ATM on the way, since I was low on cash, but couldn’t find one.
The Aroma Cafe has wonderful wraps, and after eating mine at a pretty rapid pace, I headed off to the theater alone, just in time to see Ali turned away from the Virginia for trying to bring in full bottles of water. Holding up my water bottle, I said to the lady, “This one’s empty.”
“You’ll still have to throw it out,” she said.
This, despite the fact that the guy who’s in charge of all the volunteers told me and the others, the first day, that empty water bottles could be brought into the theater. Grumbling, I threw out the bottle, but complained to my seatmates about bottle Nazis once I was inside.
Luckily, the movie was worth braving the bottle brigade. 45365 is a documentary about Sydney, OH. 45365 is its zip code. Each portion of the film is introduced by one of the numbers in the zip code, starting with the “4”. The movie is largely plotless, giving us the experience of living in this town, versus trying to force a narrative upon the people and events we come across (one of my favorite segments: a guy who calls the police because his cable isn’t working. I also enjoyed the pig race). This is the right decision. Though the same locations and people pop up again and again in this film, what we get are pieces that, when put together, form a whole, just as a quilt is formed when its different components are stitched together (and I believe the brothers who directed this film, Bill and Turner Ross, used this allusion when describing their film afterwards). Certainly, we get more of a sense of what this town is like than we would have had the film followed a more conventional storytelling approach. An excellent film that unfortunately cannot be released outside of festivals due to copyright issues involving songs used in the movie. Let’s hope that this movie is rescued, as Killer of Sheep was, so that a wider audience can see it. (Interesting note: Bill and Turner decided to make a documentary because they were influenced by Roger and Gene’s championing of Hoop Dreams. Something tells me that Gene would have championed this film, as well).
On the panel for this film were Janet Pearson, Matt Singer, and the two directors. Bill was the principal editor, and he had to cut 500 hours of film down to 90 minutes. Eventually what made it into the film were their favorite moments. And while they (wisely) decided not to show the result of the football game in the movie, the local team got crushed. While filming, they also spent lots of time with these people with the camera off. Maybe that’s why, on the day they stopped filming, a “300 pound sheepherder” cried. Luckily for us, they are currently working on two more projects, one set in New Orleans, the other a Western.
The next film was Me and Orson Welles, which I saw previously, but was even better the second time around. Richard Linklater introduced the film. Once the film was over, he was joined onstage by Ali and Ignatiy.
Me And Orson Welles is a big-budget Hollywood film that is in love with the theater. What makes it work beyond that, however, is the towering performance of Christian McKay as a young Orson Welles. Zac Ephron also does a good job as Richard Samuels, a high schooler who gets a part in Welles’s production of Caesar. With a supporting cast made up of seasoned theater actors, and the lovely Claire Danes as Sonja Jones (Richard’s love interest), this film ends with one of the characters saying, “It’s all ahead of us.” And this time I realized, that line is true for Welles, too. (Note: This line is said by a character who only appears in the beginning, middle, and end of the film. Her name is Gretta, and she is played by Zoe Kazan, whose name you should remember).
I was planning on asking Linklater a question during the Q&A that followed (after all, he has made two of my all-time favorite films: Before Sunrise and Before Sunset), but the question I had about what experiences he had in theater that infused his knowledge of the source material was answered pretty well during Ali and Ignatiy’s talk with him. In brief, he did some theater in high school, and most of the cast had vast theater experience.
Some interesting bits of information:
Christian McKay was discovered while performing a one-man show in London called Rosebud: The Lives of Orson Welles. McKay also was a former child prodigy, a “19 year old concert pianist playing Rachmaninov,” as Linklater put it.
Only a few photos of the original Mercury Theatre survive, and photos are all we have of Welles’s production of Caesar, plus memoirs from the cast. Linklater also talked to the few survivors who worked in the Mercury.
Linklater shot the film over the course of 36 days, half of that time filmed in an actual theater in England, using mainly British actors with lots of stage experience.
Ephron’s character is based on a real person in the play. Arthur Anderson was twelve years old when he played the role in Caesar that Ephron plays in the film, though he’s more famous for doing the voice in Lucky Charms ads. And, he’s still alive.
Welles had no money when he produced Caesar, which is why such bare staging was used. His use of lighting, however, impressed Gregg Toland, and gave Welles his cinematographer for Citizen Kane.
Someone asked during the audience Q&A how Welles was able to surround himself with the best technicians. Linklater answered, “Wouldn’t you do the same?”
My favorite question from the audience was for Linklater to explain his technique in making films. He looked confused, then said, “I don’t know. Get up, eat breakfast…”
Also during the Q&A with the audience, Linklater occasionally asked trivia, giving the lucky winner either a poster or a soundtrack from the film. I did not win either.
After using the restroom, I ran into Randy, who introduced me to another contributor on Ebert’s Journal, Sean Kelley. Sean had run to the edge of the stage once Linklater was done and had gotten him to sign his copy of the complete scripts for Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Upon meeting me, Sean said that he expected me to be older, but I wonder if he confused my youthful looks with my actual age. 😉 Also, I heard that Robbie Pickering (Natural Selection) had rushed to the front of the theater to get photos of Linklater. Always nice to see directors who are themselves fans of directors.
For dinner, a bunch of us headed to Jupiter’s, which has really good pizza. This time, Anne paid for all of us.
The final movie of the night was Only You. Strangely enough, the version of the song I was thinking of was not the version used in the film. It stars a young Marisa Tomei as a woman named Faith who believes that she is destined to marry a man named Damon Bradley, due to an encounter with an Ouija board and a fortune teller at age eleven. The film begins there, then skips ahead to when Faith is an adult, deciding whether or not to become engaged to a podiatrist named Dwayne (John Benjamin Hickey). After all, his name isn’t Damon Bradley. She eventually decides to accept. But then, before their wedding, she receives a telephone call from a friend of Damon’s who says he can’t make it to the wedding. His name? Damon Bradley.
So, Faith takes off for Italy to track him down, along with her best friend, Kate (Bonnie Hunt), who is going through a rough patch with her husband, Larry (Fischer Stevens), Faith’s brother. That is where Faith meets Peter (Robert Downey, Jr.), who pretends to be Damon Bradley because, at first sight, he has fallen in love with her. It also leaves to a hilarious scene, later in the film, with Billy Zane as the “real” Damon Bradley.
Now, as sweet and cute as Marisa Tomei is in this film (she was coming off her Oscar win in My Cousin Vinny), her single-mindedness in trying to find Damon Bradley began to grate on me after awhile. Bonnie Hunt, on the other hand, gets some great lines, and other fun scenes rely on the timing of the Italian cast. Plus, I am secure enough in my masculinity to say that Robert Downey, Jr. is quite cute in this film, as well. In fact, “cute” best describes Only You, which is able to use plot points at airports that now, in our days of freaking out at shadows, could not be used.
The panel afterwards consisted of Norman Jewison, Anath White, and Olivia Collette. Jewison, like Linklater, is a great storyteller, and has had such a long and industrious career (In the Heat of the Night, Moonstruck, Fiddler on the Roof) that he could have talked for hours and hours. He didn’t, but he could have. Among other things Jewison discussed:
Bonnie Hunt was the first actress hired for the film, and she really wanted the part.
The reason the moon is shown so much in this film is that all animals relate to the phases of the moon.
He sees Only You as a “very innocent, sweet, hopefully entertaining film.”
He made the film because he wanted to shoot a film in Italy.
Working with actors is “a matter of trust.” “It’s all about believability.”
He first met Ebert on the set of Gaily, Gaily.
One of the most interesting stories of the night concerned his brush with racism in the South. As a member of the Canadian Navy, he had gotten on a bus, in his uniform, in the South. When he went to the back of the bus to sit down, the bus driver said, “You tryin’ to be funny, sailor boy?” That’s when he realized that the bus was segregated; only black people sat in the back. Not knowing what to do, he got off at the next stop.
Later, he made In the Heat of the Night. When Robert F. Kennedy saw it, he said, “This could be a big picture. Timing is everything.”
When it won the New York Film Critics Association Award, who was there but Kennedy. When he saw Jewison, he said, “I told you the timing was right!”
After the Q&A was over, I met up with some of the FFCs in the lobby, where they were getting ready to head out to a party. Olivia asked if I was going. I hadn’t heard there was going to be a party, at which point she thought it might be invite only (especially since she had an invitation). She said to go ask Michael, but when I saw him, he asked the same question Olivia had asked. I told him it might be just for the FFCs and VIP guests.
Outside, I saw Grace, Susan (Grace’s driver), Tom, Donny, and Anne talking about meeting for coffee tomorrow. I hitched a ride back to the hotel with Donny and his wife. Tomorrow I would get to sleep in a bit, after having gotten back to the hotel at a decent hour – for once.