Introducing “July and Half of August” before the screening
— Chatting with Hugh Dancy before the panel we both participated in. That was the panel where I said, in regards to rom-coms, “I would LOVE to be chased by Cary Grant with a butterfly net.” I made Hugh laugh, so now my life is complete. Later, after the screening of Hysteria, Matt Seitz and I moderated the post-screening QA with Hugh and director Tanya Wexler, which was a lot of fun.
— Robert Townsend introducing Charles Burnett’s gorgeous film To Sleep with Anger. Townsend bounced out onto the stage early, before Chaz had introduced him, soaked up some applause, and then “re-wound” himself offstage, moving in reverse. It was hilarious. He interviewed Burnett afterwards and it was a beautiful conversation.
— Isabelle Huppert hanging out at the party on Friday night. She went and took a short nap in one of the offices.
— 4 of my students from Hawaii were there! It was so good to see them again and actually get a chance to hang out. They’re all doing great!
— Riding with Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips to the opening night reception at the University of Illinois’ President’s house. He had CDs lying on the front seat of his rental car and he said, “Oh God you’re gonna love this,” and popped in David Raskin’s recording of his scores for The Bad and the Beautiful, Laura and Forever Amber with the New Philharmonic Orchestra. Meant to be blasted.
— All of the people who came up to me throughout the festival wanting to talk about July and Half of August. It’s not so much the compliments I care about – although those were wonderful – especially for Brandeaux’s direction (the use of cut-aways to the pool table) and Peter Mosiman’s gorgeous black-and-white cinematography, which so many people remarked on – but what I really loved was people telling me the specifics of what got to them, and also how it made them think of something in their own lives – because in those moments there is a human connection, based on the story that was told. This has happened to me after every reading of the thing, plus every screening. People come up and tell me about themselves. It’s amazing. One woman in her 60s told me about her son, who is 38, who just bought a house, who is still single and really wants a partner and kids – and how Neve’s description of how buying a house made her “feel real” – made this woman wonder if that was how her son felt. I had an in-depth discussion with three college students, and one of them observed that Jack had a “savior complex” – “He will risk his marriage to try to save and protect this woman. He can’t help himself.” – which I thought was extremely insightful. One college student – a young man – said he appreciated that the male character had self-awareness, especially in the moment where he said he didn’t “mean to sound sexist.” He appreciated that. There were many such conversations and it made me realize that people had really LISTENED to my script. (Ebertfest audiences are remarkable that way.)
— Nick Allen, an associate editor at Rogerebert.com, and I had a gigantic in-depth and lengthy conversation (and hilarious conversation) at the Friday night party (while Isabelle Huppert napped in the room across the hall. I mean, you can’t make this up) – and the topics we covered were Eminem and Pauly Shore. Neither one has anything to do with the other, but I’m obsessed with Eminem and he’s obsessed with Pauly Shore, and so we just took it from there. It was hilarious and so much fun. I have never had a conversation with him before, although we interact all the time online, and I just love that THAT was what we chose to talk about. Later in the night, when the band sampled Eminem’s “The Way I Am” Nick jumped up in the crowd to find me and shout in excitement, as though I had written the song. Beautiful.
— Great conversations with so many people, many of whom I only see at Ebertfest: Anne Lukeman, Matt Fagerholm, Brian Tallerico, Sam Fragoso, Eric Pierson, Nell Minow, many many more. I enjoy all of these people so much.
— What a treat it was to have Mum and my sister Jean there too. Mum has been with me almost every year, it’s become a tradition which I think is so awesome. Jean was the wild card! Jean has three children under the age of 7 at home and a busy career as a middle-school teacher. But this happened to be her spring break, so she worked it out and got herself there. Thanks to Nell Minow for passing on her extra VIP pass which would have gone unused! I NEVER travel alone with my sister. The last time was when she and I went to visit Siobhan, who was in college in Dublin, years ago. So it was amazing. Plus, to come and do this exciting random thing, like attend 4 movies in one day. It’s strangely exhausting. The three of us would come back to our gorgeous hotel room and crash. Three O’Malley women in one room. It was so so special to be there with my family, to have their support in my own participation, to discuss the films afterwards, to have them be there for my own wee triumph. (Mum and Jean had bought me flowers behind my back, and basically convinced the ushers at the theatre to let them into the empty theatre beforehand, so they could place them on my chair where I would discover them.) Very very special time with my family. So much laughter. Tears too.
— Had very nice conversations with many of the film-makers there. We were all staying at the same hotel. Mum had a great conversation with cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (father of Zooey), who was there presenting the brilliant Being There (which he shot). I spoke with him a little bit too. I had a nice bonding moment with Charles Burnett, where I got to pass on regards from a friend of mine who had interviewed him for GQ 15 years ago. Charles remembered. He also was eager to talk about MY film, which was so flattering, can’t even tell you. He wanted to know what camera we used, he was so impressed with the LOOK of it (so thank you again, Peter Mosiman.)
— I got to meet Isabelle Huppert which was overwhelming.
— At one point, something amusing happened during one of the film introductions and my phone lit up with a snarky text from Matt Seitz, who was seated 5 rows behind me. Hilarious.
— So many good movies screened. Pleasantville, which is a masterpiece. I’m not sure its masterpiece status was quite perceived on its first release. It’s an extraordinary film. Director Gary Ross was there. Being There. Hysteria! These movies knocked me out. (I’ve seen them all before, but none on the big screen, with a gigantic audience.) There were two extraordinary documentaries: They Call Us Monsters (which Jean was interested in especially, because she teaches writing to middle-schoolers), and Mind/Game, focusing on an athlete with a bipolar diagnosis, and our stories were nearly identical (except I’m not a famous basketball player). Great panel afterwards about mental illness, especially in connection with athletes and how difficult it is – even more so – for athletes to admit “weakness” and seek help. De-Lovely screened on the last day, with legendary producer/director Irwin Winkler present (as well as his son Charles, also a producer). That movie DESTROYED me and Mum. We walked back to the hotel, holding onto each other, crying. It killed us. A beautiful film. Norman Lear was there for the presentation of the documentary about him, and it was great because They Call Us Monsters was directed by Lear’s son, Ben Lear. It was rather overwhelming being in the presence of Norman Lear. A man who helped CREATE our culture. A college kid said to me at dinner, “He is so before my time.” And I said, old geezer that I am, “He CREATED our time.” Then the kid said, “I feel like I just discovered my childhood hero, even though he wasn’t present at all in my own childhood” – which I thought was a beautiful comment.
— I was totally not expecting to receive a “Golden Thumb,” the statue Chaz Ebert and Nate Kohn give out to every film-maker and guest (it’s an actual cast of Roger’s thumb). When Chaz brought it out, I feel like my reaction must have been reminiscent of the cover for Hole’s “Live Through This.”
I just wasn’t expecting it. The little stand is engraved with my name, the name of “my” film (it’s not really mine, it was a collaboration), and “Ebertfest 2017.”
I was so touched. A great day for me.