He loved Ebertfest and savored every minute of planning it. This year, to honor his legacy, we chose the theme of “Empathy at the Movies.” Empathy, he often said, is the most essential element of civilization. It helps us to put ourselves in the shoes of someone who is different from us. We both believed that cinema at its noblest inspires us to understand others and encourages tolerance, patience and acts of kindness and compassion.
So Nate and I undertook the careful curation of films that showed various aspects of lives that were different. We experienced vicariously what Marian Anderson endured before her triumphant night at the Metropolitan Opera. We held our breath during courageous acts of survival during the Holocaust, and suffered along with the visceral pain of an alcoholic woman raging out of control. Our minds wrapped around the wonder of a magician helping us to discover who we are and equally at the musings of a being in the ethers making decisions about who was worthy of being born.
Our Ebertfest empathy journey took us to the countryside in Tokyo, to Berlin to witness Angels before the fall of the wall, and allowed us to rub shoulders with folksingers in America amidst the backdrop of 9/11. We swam along with older African-American women who taught us that age is nothing but a number. We went to the future with young filmmakers who found a parallel about inequality in history, and were brought back to the reality of a young drug courier whose mastery of the game of chess literally saves his life.
During these precious days we spent recently in the dark together with these films, we enjoyed the music of the Anvil Orchestra, who adopted a name that was inadvertently given to them by Roger. And we ended the festival with a film that Roger and I loved because of its seeming innocence and goodness at the time, and it is one that made us want to go out and eat shrimp.
So without further ado, here are the films and Guests of Ebertfest 2023. (All photos are the property of Ebertfest and were taken by Timothy Hiatt for the Roger Ebert Film Festival.)