I just sent the following message back East!
“Seymour, May this be the best year ever with continued celebration of your wondrous achievements as a pianist, teacher, composer, author, philosopher, and global musical ambassador.”
While gratitude is expressed far and wide for what Seymour Bernstein has advanced in the musical and interpersonal communication universe, he is the first to be humbled by the adulation he has received for his big screen presence in Seymour: An Introduction.
In this spirit, Seymour gave me permission to copy a set of e-mails that sprang from his recent appearance at the Eberfest that honors Roger Ebert and showcases selected films of unusual artistic merit.
Founded in 1999 by the late Roger Ebert, University of Illinois Journalism graduate and Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic, Roger Ebert’s Film Festival (Ebertfest) celebrates films that haven’t received the recognition they deserved during their original runs. The festival gives these films and their filmmakers a well-deserved second look.
Ebertfest takes place in Urbana-Champaign each April. Chaz Ebert, Roger’s beloved wife, business partner and fellow film-lover, is the festival host.
While Roger passed away in April 2013, his influence on the Festival continues. True to Roger’s vision, the twelve films screened during the five day event represent a cross-section of important cinematic works overlooked by audiences, critics and/or distributors. Some films come from lists of possible films that Roger drew up over the first 15 years of the festival. Chaz Ebert and Festival Director Nate Kohn select additional films based on Roger’s established criteria for an Ebertfest film. Both Chaz and Nate worked closely with Roger for fifteen years on programming the festival.
The Festival brings together the films’ producers, writers, actors and directors to help showcase their work. A filmmaker or scholar introduces the films, and screenings are followed by an in depth on-stage Q&A discussion among filmmakers, critics and the audience.
Ebertfest is a special event of the College of Media at the University of Illinois, and the festival, in conjunction with the College, hosts a number of on-campus academic panel discussions each year that feature filmmaker guests, scholars and students.
All the festival films screen in the 1,500-seat Virginia Theatre, a restored 1920s movie palace with state-of-the-art 35/70mm and digital projection. A portion of the Festival’s income goes toward on-going renovations at the theatre.
“See below a note from Chaz Ebert, widow of Roger Ebert the world-famous film critic. After the death of her husband, Chaz created what is now considered to be one of the world’s major film festivals. The projection technician, James Bond (what a name) has to be a genius. I was simply in awe of the visual and aural aspects of the film in that magnificent auditorium. I told Chaz that I could not get over the sound of the piano. She took me into her arms where I sobbed for minutes on end. She was crying, too.
“Andrew Harvey was there, and so was Bill who came with me. As we entered the stage for the Q and A session, the entire audience of 1,500 rose in one gesture and roared their approval for a full 2 minutes. Two of the world’s most distinguished film critics were the moderators. After the Q and A, they rolled out a Steinway and I gave a masterclass right there and then to two fabulous students from the University. All told, this was the most rewarding screening I have attended.
“Open the attachment and see the photo of Chaz and me. I believe it tells all.”
From: Chaz Ebert
To: Seymour Bernstein
Subject: Re: Deep gratitude
My Dear Seymour:
Having you close Ebertfest with your film and Masterclass and the music from the students brought together the whole week for me with grace and beauty. You were absolutely divine and I knew you would be from the first moment we spoke on the phone. Also, Andrew told me to prepare for the absolute beauty you would bring and he was right.
You did my heart good when you said you had never heard it like that before. One of the things we pride ourselves on at the festival is showing movies in a way that the filmmakers don’t get to see them these days of the multiplex theaters. We have this restored movie palace and hired James Bond to help us because he is the best! We all have a deep respect for the films and for the guests who come to the Festival. Thank you.
I want to make sure we get the Golden Thumb to you. Please send me your address so that we can get it out to you right away.
And please thank Bill for me. He was so kind. I would love to hear his music! And I hope he had a first class ticket too! Please let me know.
From: Seymour Bernstein
To: Chaz Ebert
Subject: Deep gratitude
My dear Chaz,
Words cannot possibly express my emotional response to everything that occurred yesterday. I was so deeply touched by what you made possible for me, plus James Bond’s genius engineering that resulted in my seeing/hearing the documentary in a way I had never before experienced, simply cracked me up. The rest was as you remember: I sobbed in your arms. The audience response, receiving the “thumb” award, the Q and A session, and the master class were all highlights in my life.
And you are at the center of it all. Darling Chaz, my deepest thanks for everything.
Much love and admiration.
Finally, how Chaz described Seymour: An Introduction in her blog prologue to its Festival inclusion:
“The other documentary is the very charming “Seymour: An Introduction,” directed by Ethan Hawke. It introduces us to Seymour Bernstein, a classically trained pianist who struggled with how to honor his art when it conflicted with the anxiety in his life. It raises questions about the role and responsibility of the artist to himself, to the audience, and to his fellow travelers. Ethan started the project because he questioned whether his life and art had the authenticity he desired. He did a wonderful job coaxing the philosophy out of Seymour as Seymour demonstrated his gift for coaxing the best performances out of his students. Seymour Bernstein will be with us in person conducting a masterclass. Even in the movie, his music transported me. Rumi Scholar Andrew Harvey put Hawke and Bernstein together, and I am hoping he will join Seymour on stage after this beautiful closing film.”