Ebertfest Snapshots

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.

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14 Responses to Ebertfest Snapshots

  1. Helena says:


    • sheila says:

      Catching up. Shamefully late. THANK YOU!! It was a thrill. It now sits in an honored place on my bookshelf. Truly thrilling.

  2. Barb says:

    Oh, Sheila–how amazing! It sounds like such an intense & joyous experience–and, ditto, Helena!

    • sheila says:

      Thank you Barb – it was an amazing experience! I’m proud of what we created and it means so much to share it and to get a good response.

  3. Sheila!

    I came on here to talk about Feud, which is already fantastic enough for you (I’ll get to that later) and, oh my goodness! Look at you!
    Throughout this whole thing with all these great stories I kept picturing Huppert sleeping in that next room! I didn’t get to see a lot of movies this year but I saw Elle twice, she just knocked me out in that.
    The butterfly net, so hilarious!
    You ARE the girl with the most cake. So wonderful and so well deserved!

  4. Cousin Mike says:

    As the executive producer I do not believe that wee and triumph belong in the same sentence and certainly not for something as momentous, significant and insightful as your film. It was a triumph. And your triumph needs no modifier.

    • sheila says:

      Love love love and thank you Exec Producer. I gave you a shoutout in my introduction of course.

      And thank you for the correction. You’re right!! :)

  5. Todd Restler says:

    I was trying to “like” your Cousin’s comment! Congrats Sheila, it’s a wonderful achievement, and I’ve been reading amazing things about your film on twitter. You have a credit, and from all accounts one you should be damn proud of. Well done!

  6. Jessie says:

    this is all just so unbearably wonderful!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Maureen says:

    As someone who just got back from the TCM Film Festival-I loved reading about your experiences at Ebertfest. We met a writer who has written for rogerebert.com, and of course I had to mention your name-how much I loved your writing! She, of course, knew of you!

    I’m so happy you had such a wonderful experience. I can say as the person who is a fan, is so great to talk to the writers and film makers.

    Sheila, one of my highlights of the festival-after seeing The Palm Beach Story, one of my very favorite movies, we were able to chat with Wyatt McCrea-Joel McCrea’s grandson. He couldn’t have been more gracious, and of course I had to talk about the stair scene in The More the Merrier. Then, the absolute best part-as we left the theater, heading back to the hell that is Hollywood Blvd-I saw Mary Astor’s grandchildren, who were introduced before the movie. I got the chance to express my extreme love of Mary, how every time I saw her on screen I couldn’t take my eyes off her. They were so nice!

    The festival was amazing-we got to chat with Diane Baker, who is utterly delightful-at the party at the Gala party after the screening of Heat of the Night. It is always amazing to me how gracious these stars are, we commiserated about the loss of Robert Osborne, who was such a great friend of hers. They had a lovely program where his coworkers and Diane shared stories of him, I swore I wouldn’t cry, and was sobbing within the first 2 minutes.

    So, I hope I didn’t hijack your post, but I would like to give all the thanks in the world, to the people who make the films, and show up to talk to fan like myself.

    • sheila says:

      Maureen – some day I’ll get to that festival!!

      // We met a writer who has written for rogerebert.com, and of course I had to mention your name-how much I loved your writing! She, of course, knew of you! //

      Who was it, I wonder?? Jana, maybe?

      You had some wonderful interactions! Wow! Palm Beach Story – a total favorite.

      and tell me about the interaction in re: More the Merrier!!

      It’s funny you mention Diane Baker – I just mentioned her in my Feud re-caps because of the Strait-Jacket connection. I watched the little documentary about the making of that film, and she gave such a great and illuminating interview – especially since Crawford and Castle are no longer around.

  8. Maureen says:

    Sheila, if it hadn’t been on the same day we had the Robert Osborne tribute, I would have totally asked her about Joan Crawford. I would have loved her thoughts, she is a great storyteller, and if she hasn’t written a book, she needs to!

    At the party, she had on the most beautiful golden dress, I can’t even describe it. Then when you get up close to her, she has the most perfectly natural look. Her skin was like a peach, and my sister had to mention it! She was so sweet, she said it was all down to good genetics.

    I so see you at this festival, and I see you introducing a movie. Your wit, enthusiasm, knowledge is what we festival goers totally love!!

    I have such a bad head for names when I first meet people-I’ll have to check with my sister. I think her last name was Emmerick? Not sure of the spelling, but she definitely knew who you are.

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