Being late to the Ebertfest experience as I am, I can't help but think back on all that I have missed during the first decade of its existence. 2009 was my first time as an attendee and that was because Roger invited me to be on a panel with a number of other film critics. It was during that period when everyone was crying about the death of film criticism. Thank God nobody is saying that anymore, right? With all the amenities of being a VIP guest on my maiden voyage, it was quite easy to walk away a bit spoiled. Sundance certainly never welcomed me with a gift basket full of wine and festival memorabilia in my hotel room. So the prospect of making the nearly three-hour drive and daily commitment with already so much on my plate was a daunting one. But it took only a single screening to remind me what this festival is all about and why it should be an essential stop on every movie lover's calendar.
Thursday night's centerpiece screening was Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now Redux. Walter Murch was scheduled to be in attendance, but like many of the guest speakers from across the pond, his flight was grounded due to some ill-tempered volcano ash. His work on the film more than spoke for itself as I found myself watching this epic in a theater for the first time in any form. Not just any theater, but the wonderful Virginia Theatre movie palace (complete with balcony, where I spent the bulk of my time) plays host to all of the festival screenings. French plantation sequence and any lingering issues with the third act aside, here I was after a long solo drive watching a genuine treasure on the silver screen, eyes wide and ears attentive on every frame (until the Frenchies) and I was struck with being a part of the best film school in the world – cinema itself.