By the second day of Ebertfest a theme is usually beginning to emerge. Two years ago, there were a lot of movies about death (I wasn't at the 2010 festival, but in the course of last year watched the full program at home). Last year, there was something about the triumph of the human spirit. This year, it seems to be the way people with very tightly constrained lives still may manage to carve out happiness and follow their passions. This year's schedule.
Even before Joe (Tom Hanks) in JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO gets his death-sentence wake-up call and embarks on the wild ride that is the rest of the movie, he has his lamp. Working in the grimmest, most dismal office imaginable, every day he bangs off the fluorescent light and plugs in a lamp with a South Sea island shade and a touch of music.
In the documentary PHUNNY BUSINESS, Ray Lambert creates a space for black comedians, then relegated to a half-life in designated off-nights at Chicago's main comedy clubs, to develop audiences and professional lives that soon led them to national stages. (Asked at this morning's panel, for the curious, he says he and his father are solvent again; he went back into corporate work for a while before doing the documentary and now wants to more documentaries. He'd like to start a cable channel - and then found out how much that costs and how hard it really is.)
In BIG FAN, Paul (Patton Oswald) is the schlubby guy who lives with his mother, works in a box (literally: he's the guy in the parking lot who takes your money as you leave), and dates only his right hand. And yet: he loves his life because includes the Giants. He watches the games on a TV in the stadium parking lot, and expresses his love through painstakingly scripted phone calls to a local sports radio show. That's the life - or it is until the disaster of actually meeting his hero.
Even the Rwandans whose many stories make up the mosaic of KINYARWANDA carve out small slices of happiness despite the horror of their surroundings.
Finally, in TERRI a misfit seems more at ease with himself than anyone around him - he seems to have crafted mental space for himself despite his surroundings.
Today may prove me entirely wrong. To be continued.