Spreading the Word of Ebert - 10 Cannes Books Delivered to Cinephiles
by Alex Billington
May 27, 2019
"I had lunch with Scacchi and Makavejev at that 1985 festival, playing the fly on the wall while they tested each other. Their conversation was a sparring match that suggested they had fought great battles on the set of The Coca-Cola Kid, while still remaining friends. We were sitting on a balcony at the Martinez." To celebrate my 10th time attending the Cannes Film Festival this year, I held a small contest to giveaway 10 copies of Roger Ebert's classic book about his experiences at the festival. The book, titled "Two Weeks in the Midday Sun: A Cannes Notebook", is one of my favorite books about cinema that I've ever read. He wrote little notes, drew sketches, and essentially "blogged" about his time at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival - it's stirring and entertaining to see how much his stories mirror my own experiences. I wanted to share this little-known book with other cinephiles and gave out 10 copies to people I met with during the 2019 festival.
After running this website for nearly 13 years I've come to realize - it is not so much about me as it is about everyone else. I want to see all these films, and attend every festival, sure, that's true. But I also love to meet and engage with and discuss cinema with everyone else – you are important, too. I want to see more diverse voices. Not just film critics, but cinephiles young and old. Newcomers and veterans of cinema. And I want to hear their opinions, and encourage their writing/speaking as much as my own. I've been around here for a while and I've established myself, but it makes me so happy to meet people who are attending a film festival for their first time. Luke and Leo (seen in the first photo below) both came to Cannes for their first time this year, and I anxiously checked in on them to hear their thoughts, and followed their reviews (Luke's on Film School Rejects, Leo's on Mubi Notebook). This Ebert book is the best thing to encourage more conversation.
The way Ebert writes makes it feel so easy to work like him and express your thoughts, and I hope this book stirs up the minds of everyone who reads it. I'm glad I had a chance to meet and connect with all kinds of cinephiles from around the world. Cannes is all about that mix of film lovers, the randomness of connection that can happen anywhere - on the street or in a cinema. You never know who you'll meet! Or where they're from! And this festival prides itself on bringing in journalists and critics and bloggers from everywhere all over the world. Same with the film selection - they have diverse filmmakers, telling stories that are personal and powerful, and universally appealing. I gave the book to these fine folks who found me in the craziness of the fest, and took a photo of each winner - to show how many wonderful people there are attending Cannes.
All my photos of the 10 people who received a copy of the book during the festival (a few with me included):
All the winners of the book (from top to bottom, left to right): Leo from Berlin (@LeonardoGoi), Luke from New York City (@lou_kicks), Tatiana from Moscow (@zlobuster), Steven from Brussels (@Waanzinema), Antonio from Milan (@antomaaba), Daria from Ukraine (@gafiykino), Kaio from California (@kaio_ff), Max from Switzerland (@IMDBorg), Andrey from Ukraine, Pamela from London/Berlin (@rayFilmmag).
It's also encouraging to think that - even 32 years later, Roger Ebert's words can still connect with us; they still inspire and delight us. While there are over three decades between now and when this book was first written, it really feels like he wrote it last year. Or could still be writing it every year. Not only is this due to the way he writes, but also what he has to say, how he captures the actual experience of being at the festival. It's not just about the films, but the people he meets – filmmakers and film buyers and fellow critics and more – and how they shape and influence him. He writes with an eloquence and focus that captures the vibe of the festival in a way few others can. I aspire to write as beautifully as Ebert did, and I always try my best. While at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, I referenced the book and mirrored his writing with my own posts and essays on the Cannes experience (one of my favorites I've ever written is this one about making friends).
Now that the fest is over and we've all returned home, I want to say thank you to these 10 winners. Thank you for getting in touch with me, for reaching out and expressing your interest in the book. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me. Thank you for inspiring and encouraging me to keep my writing sharp, to open my mind more and gain new perspectives. Thank you to the Cannes Film Festival for inviting me back and giving me a press badge. Thank you to all my friends who I had the honor of chatting with. Thank you to everyone who saved seats and held spots for me in the queues (you know who you are!). Thank you to the filmmakers for putting their heart & soul into their films, for telling these stories and being bold in their storytelling. Thank you to the publicists and festival staff who help make everything run smoothly. Thank you to the locals in Cannes who put up with the crowds, and to the security and cleaners who work tirelessly.
Even though every year is a unique experience, every year in Cannes is another wonderful time. I always enjoy going to Cannes, year after year, and I'm looking forward to attending for another 10 years. It may be exhausting, it may be challenging and costly, but it's always worth it. I saw so many incredible films, and ate so much good food. And hopefully more cinephiles will make the trip and experience this festival first hand. If you want to pick up a copy of Roger Ebert's Cannes notebook and read it yourself - it's still available on Amazon. Maybe it will encourage you to finally make that film you've always wanted to make, or launch that blog you've been trying to start. Or maybe it will be the final kick in the butt you need to save up money and fly over to the South of France next May, and catch the next edition of this iconic festival. If you're in town next year and see me around, please say hi. Maybe I'll have an extra copy or two to give away. Who knows…