In Memory of Roger Ebert – 10 Years at Cannes, 10 Books to Giveaway
by Alex Billington
May 16, 2019
I’m celebrating my 10th year attending the Cannes Film Festival, after first coming here in 2009. I love this festival, and I always love coming back, and I always say this every year. But this year, in honor of my 10th time here, I’ve decided to do something special. I’m giving away 10 copies of the classic Ebert book: “Two Weeks in the Midday Sun: A Cannes Notebook“. Ebert wrote this book while at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival and it was first published later that year. It became lost in time, until I was introduced to it before coming to Cannes in 2014. I wrote a series of blog posts that year referencing this book and mirroring my own experiences. And I’ve never forgotten about it. The book was republished (with a new intro by Martin Scorsese!) a few years back and is now widely available (check Amazon) in case you want to read it yourself.
Not many people know of this book, which is fascinating because you think it would be more popular. Not only is it Roger Ebert, but it’s Ebert giving us some of his best stories about cinema. It’s a collection of notes and short stories, essentially a Cannes blog before blogging even existed. And he wrote this 32 years ago! So amazing. He even drew funny little sketches for it, and a map of the town, along with making fun of other journalists and criticizing them (one of his best cartoons is about a French journalist who uses a pen light during a screening and Ebert yells at him to “learn take notes in zee dark!”). If you’ve ever been to Cannes, reading this book will give you the chills because so much of what Ebert experienced then is pretty much the same now – including rude French journalists and other stories about this historic, vintage festival. I love it.
For the next two weeks, I will be covering a story with no end and no shape. Every morning at 8:30 there will be the first of the day’s press screenings, and every night at midnight another party will be just beginning. My job will be to think in two ways at once: To be a critic, evaluating the films I see and trying to find some sort of pattern in them, and to be a gossipmonger, trying to discover the real reason why Bo Derek has made on two films since 10. The only constant will be my battle with my computer. The people will drift in and out of focus, on the screen and at lunch and dinner and poolside at the Majestic and on the Carlton Beach and out at the Hotel du Cap d’Antibes and on sidewalks and in the cafes, and it will all be disconnected, and I will convert it all somehow into copy that will make the Cannes Film Festival sound like a jolly round of glamorous interviews.
If I am lucky, however, something extraordinary will happen to me during this festival. I will see a film that will make my spine tingle with its greatness, and I will leave the theater speechless. There is no better place on earth to see a movie than in the Palais des Festivals at Cannes, with its screen three times the size of an ordinary theater screen, and its perfect sound system, and especially its audience of four thousand people who care passionately about film.
It’s kind of eerie how his writing perfectly captures the experience of being here. How much it sounds like he’s sitting right next to me reading this aloud today, talking about what he’s about to go see this year. It’s also eerie how much is the exact same, how much the festival operates similarly to what he experienced there 32 years ago. But I guess that’s part of the magic. That’s exactly what makes Cannes such a unique, unforgettable, extraordinary place. That’s part of why it has such an iconic legacy, why there’s so much history here. And why it still has the most film critics in the entire world attending every year, no matter the line-up, no matter the changes they make. It’s Cannes! It’s the South of France! It’s cinema heaven! And there’s nowhere I’d rather be. And I feel truly lucky and honored to be in the same place where Roger Ebert used to return to year after year, sit in the same screening rooms he used to frequent. And hopefully, if we’re lucky as well, we’ll have that “spine-tingling” experience when a film leaves us floored. Only time will tell…
Yay! After a shipping delay, these finally arrived! I’m giving away 10 copies of this classic Roger Ebert at Cannes book in honor of my 10th year at the Cannes Film Festival. More info on how to get one later… #Cannes2019 pic.twitter.com/NuL9gZMUOp
— Alex Billington @ Cannes (@firstshowing) May 16, 2019
As a tribute to, and in memory of Roger Ebert, and in honor of my 10th year here – I wanted to share this book with a few other people at the Cannes Film Festival. I have brought 10 copies of the book with me to Cannes this year, and I’m giving them away to anyone/everyone. If you’re a cinephile or a critic, or even a filmmaker or cinematographer or producer, please get in touch. All you have to do is find me! Which is not that easy considering I’m constantly roving between the Palais and various screenings and my apartment and dinner at La Piazza and everywhere else. But if you can find me, please introduce yourself, tell me you’d like a copy of the book. And then just tell me the secret password – which film won the Palme d’Or in 1964? That’s it! I only have 10 of them to give away, so there’s not many available, but I do have them here and I’ll be able to give you a copy before the festival ends (or you leave town). Free of charge, no conditions.
We’re already a few days into the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, yet there’s still many more days go to go. The Cannes last a full two weeks, and Ebert talks about this in the book – including how exhausting it gets, and how much we all try to talk about what we love even when we’re sleeping through or forgetting the films we’ve seen. It’s just how it is at a festival, especially when we’re all rushing to see upwards of 30 films here. The best part about this book is how timeless it is, how much it reads like it is being written this year (and every year). And I hope one day someone will discover it another 30 years from now, inspiring them and connecting with their experiences at the film festival. I miss Ebert very much… I miss his wisdom and his opinions, his love for film festivals, and his appreciation for all those who adore cinema as much as he did.
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