Ebertfest 2013: Day 5 ends the festival with quiet optimism and healing

Mary Susan Britt and Chaz Ebert at Ebertfest 2013

Still from Not Yet Begun to Fight

The last day of Ebertfest was a thankfully calm and contemplative one. With only one screening at noon, there was plenty of time to sleep in and grab breakfast before heading back to the Virginia Theatre one more time. The day started with a video essay by Kevin Lee B. that was filmed at last year’s festival and paid tribute to Roger Ebert and his international impact. “Sight and Sound Poll: Roger Ebert’s Favorite Films” features younger critics and filmmakers from all over the world reading parts from Roger’s reviews of four of his favorite films, the four films to remain consistent between his first Sight and Sound poll list and his last. It’s a sweet essay and it was a nice way to kick off the final day of the festival.

Next up was the final film of the festival, Not Yet Begun to Fight, a documentary about injured veterans and Warriors and Quiet Waters, a non-profit run by Marine Colonel Eric Hastings that seeks to help wounded soldiers heal by teaching them fly fishing. It’s a beautiful, moving film, remarkable for its openness. It’s astonishing how generous and honest the veterans are with the filmmakers and, by extension, the audience. We learn about their trauma, their experiences, and their hopes and fears for the future. We get a glimpse at their struggle and their resolve. And we see the passion and determination of Colonel Hastings and the rest of the volunteers at Quiet Waters. This is an inspiring film, both because of the journeys of the veterans but also for the dedication this group of guides has to their students’ growth and development. It’s not about getting the soldiers to catch a fish, it’s about instilling a sense of the philosophy: the patience, the stillness, and importantly, the respect for life (every fish caught is released, rather than kept).

After the film, Steve Prokopy from AICN moderated the Q&A with one of the directors, Sabrina Lee, executive producer Steve Platcow, and one of the subjects, Sergeant Erik Goodge. It was a fitting end to the festival, with silly laughs thanks to asides like Prokopy’s suggestion of an Ebertfest first- a live birth on stage (the other intended guests from the film were absent because of just arrived, or just about to arrive, new additions to their families), emotional moments such as the otherwise lighthearted Sergeant’s mention of his shifting priorities and his affinity for Colonel Hastings, and filmmaking insights like Lee’s discussion of the challenges of shooting in such gorgeous vistas. After a festival so incredibly shaped by the recent death of Roger Ebert, it was incredibly appropriate that the final film he’d chosen for us to see was one about healing and moving on after great loss.

Mary Susan Britt and Chaz Ebert at Ebertfest 2013

The whole of Ebertfest was an amazing experience. With Roger’s death in such close proximity to the festival, attendees were bound to read into his programming of the festival no matter what films he’d chosen, but the fact that so many of them deal with loss, family/community, and the struggle to reengage with the world after trauma is downright spooky. It was a fantastic lineup of films and one I’ll remember for a long time, along with the singing, dancing, and chanting that surprised us inbetween. From the opening moments of the festival, Chaz set the tone as one of joyful remembrance. She was the picture of grace and, should I experience such a loss, I hope to have even a fraction of the strength this week must have required of her. Everyone, from the engaged, excited audience to the entertaining guests to Ebertfest PtB Nate Kohn and Mary Susan Britt, James Bond and the rest of the Virginia staff (Thanks again, Don- I’ll do the spiel next year, promise!), the volunteers, and the Master and the rest of the IFV crew, did a great job and contributed to making this a relaxed, comparatively stress-free environment. Even Mother Nature showed up by the end of the week, sending out the festival with sunshine and clear skies. This was a singular and truly rewarding experience; Ebertfest will be back in 2014 and I look forward to being there.

Kate Kulzick

Check out the rest of my Ebertfest 2013 coverage:
Day 1- “I Remember” and Days of Heaven
Day 2- “To Music”, Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent van Gogh, In the Family, Bernie
Day 3- Oslo, August 31st, The Ballad of Narayama, Julia
Day 4- Blancanieves, Kumaré, Escape From Tomorrow, The Spectacular Now

And make sure to check out the video archive for the festival, featuring the introductions to all of the films, the Q&As afterwards, and panel discussions.

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