Ebertfest: Roger Ebert's Film Festival

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A view of the Virginia Theatre's marquee in 2014 for Roger Ebert's Film Festival

Roger Ebert's Film Festival, originally known as Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival but commonly referred to as simply Ebertfest, is an annual film festival held every April in Champaign, Illinois, United States, organized by the College of Media at the University of Illinois. Roger Ebert was a native of the adjoining town of Urbana, Illinois and is an alumnus of the University.

Selection criteria[edit]

Unlike typical film festivals, Ebertfest[1] does not accept submissions. Roger Ebert, the TV and Chicago Sun-Times film critic selected films for the festival which in his opinion are excellent, but have been overlooked by the public or by film distribution companies. All films are selected from those that Ebert saw in the course of his normal reviewing work.

The original purpose of the Overlooked Film Festival, as reflected in the name, was to showcase films that had not been given enough attention by the public, film critics, or even distributors. Ebert had cheerfully admitted that he can bend the definition of "overlooked" to accommodate any film that he would like to include, since entire genres and formats can be overlooked as well as individual films. The selection philosophy is expected to continue, but with the name change there will no longer be a need to come up with a pretext for including any film.

70 mm[edit]

In most years the festival has included a film in the 70 mm format. The films may be major releases, like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Patton, or less well-known, like 2005's showing of the French film Play Time. These films were all chosen primarily due to their use of the 70mm process, which Ebert felt was overlooked.

Silent film[edit]

Each year a silent film is shown with live orchestral accompaniment. The films selected are generally well-known (for example, Nosferatu), but Ebert felt that silent films in general are overlooked by the majority of moviegoers. The festival also strives to include a musical film for the same reason. Performers providing live accompaniment have included the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra and the Alloy Orchestra.

Festival format[edit]

At the festival before each screening Roger Ebert would make a few introductory remarks. After the film is shown he will have a discussion on stage with the filmmakers or others connected with the film, sometimes hosting a brief panel discussion.

Twelve to fourteen films are presented at each festival, opening with a single film on a Wednesday night and concluding with a single movie the following Sunday. On each day during the interim four films are presented.

After Ebert lost his speaking voice due to cancer, his wife Chaz has took on many of the hosting duties. Post-show panels are led by his "Far-Flung Correspondents" or other respected film professionals, such as film historian David Bordwell and film critic Christy Lemire.[2]

On April 4th, 2013, Ebert passed away after a long battle with cancer.[3] Despite his passing, the film festival went along as scheduled, simultaneously acting as a tribute to Ebert's legacy. The festival will go on for many more years.[4] At the opening of the 15th annual Ebertfest, it was announced by Ebert's wife, Chaz, that his alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will be establishing a new Film Studies program within the College of Media in honor of his legacy. The program will be funded in part by a $1 million grant from Ebert and his wife to the University. The non-degree program will be both a collection of film-related seminars and classes as well as a platform for Ebertfest to continue.[5]

Admission[edit]

Festival goers can purchase tickets to individual shows or full-festival passes. As passholders do not necessarily attend every show, it is often possible to obtain tickets at the last minute after empty seats are counted.

Venue[edit]

Ebertfest is held at the Virginia Theatre, an old-time movie palace in Champaign now owned by the Champaign Park District. Ebert spoke of having attended films at the Virginia while growing up in Champaign-Urbana and attending the University.

Origins[edit]

The festival is a direct descendant of a program put on at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1997 called Cyberfest which used the supposed birthday of HAL (the computer in the 2001 film) to highlight the University's involvement in the history of computers and computing. The film was to be shown as part of Cyberfest, Roger Ebert had agreed to host and actor Gary Lockwood was a special guest. It was suggested that the film should ideally be shown as it was originally, in 70 mm format. The original plan was to have the screening at the University's performing arts center but time constraints vs. the need to install projection equipment and elaborate six channel sound made this impossible. Someone suggested looking at the Virginia Theatre, as 70 mm films had been shown there in the past. At this point the theatre was in the hands of a local live theatre group and had not run films since sold by a theatre chain. All concerned were pleasantly surprised to learn the chain had left behind not only what is reputed to be the finest 35/70 mm projector made but also the screen and speakers. The rest of the equipment was brought in for the special showing which went perfectly.

Growth[edit]

Since that time, through generous donations, the Virginia has been able to fully equip its projection and sound system with a second projector, the latest in digital sound equipment and top quality lenses.

Instrumental in these upgrades has been notable Chicago-based projection expert James Bond who doubles as one of the projectionists during the festival.

Films[edit]

The following is an incomplete list of films presented at Ebertfest.

2013[edit]

[6]

Title Director Year Starring Notes
Days of Heaven Terrence Malick 1978 Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard, Linda Manz Post-film Q&A included Haskell Wexler (cinematographer)
I Remember (short) Grace Wang 2012 Lily Huang, Chris Chang
Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent Van Gogh Paul Cox 1989 John Hurt, Marika Rivera, Gabriella Trsek
To Music (short) Sophie Kohn 2013 Paul Cox, Roger Glanville-Hicks, Henriett Tunyogi, Tamás Vásáry
In the Family Patrick Wang 2012 Sebastian Banes, Patrick Wang, Trevor St. John Post-film Q&A included Wang and St. John
Bernie Richard Linklater 2011 Jack Black, Shirley McLaine, Matthew McConaughey Post-film Q&A included Linklater and Black (via conference call)
Oslo, August 31st Joachim Trier 2011 Anders Danielsen Lie Post-film Q&A included Trier
The Ballad of Narayama Keisuke Kinoshita 1958 Kinuyo Tanaka, Teiji Takahashi, Yuuko Mochizuki Post-film Q&A included David Bordwell (film historian)
Julia Erick Zonca 2008 Tilda Swinton, Aidan Gould, Saul Rubinek, Kate del Castillo Post-film Q&A included Swinton
Blancanieves Pablo Berger 2012 Maribel Verdú Post-film Q&A included Berger
Kumaré Vikram Gandhi 2011 Vikram Gandhi Post-film Q&A included Gandhi
Escape from Tomorrow Randy Moore 2013 Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber, Katelynn Rodriguez, Annet Mahendru, Danielle Safady, Alison Lees-Taylor Post-film Q&A included Moore, Soojin Chung (producer), Abramsohn, Schuber, Mahendru
The Spectacular Now James Ponsoldt 2013 Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kyle Chandler Post-film Q&A included Ponsoldt and Woodley
Not Yet Begun to Fight Sabrina Lee, Shasta Grenier 2012 Navy SEAL Elliott Miller, Sgt. Erik Goodge, Col. Eric Hastings Post-film Q&A included Lee and Goodge

2012[edit]

[7]

Title Director Year Starring Notes
Joe Versus the Volcano John Patrick Shanley 1990 Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Lloyd Bridges, Abe Vigoda Post-film Q&A included Stephen Goldblatt (director of photography)
The Truth About Beauty & Blogs (short) Rosalyn Coleman Williams 2011 Kelechie Ezie Post-film Q&A included Kelechie Ezie, also writer and co-producer
Phunny Business: A Black Comedy John Davies 2011 Raymond Lambert Post-film Q&A included John Davies, Reid Brody (producer), Raymond Lambert (also writer and producer), Ali LeRoi (comedian featured in film)
Big Fan Robert Siegel 2009 Patton Oswalt, Kevin Corrigan, Michael Rapaport Post-film Q&A included Robert Siegel. Patton Oswalt was scheduled to attend, as well as introduce a public screening of Kind Hearts and Coronets, but was detained by filming commitments
Kinyarwanda Alrick Brown 2011 Hassan Kabera, Edouard Bamporiki, Cassandra Freeman Post-film Q&A included Alrick Brown, Ishmael Ntihabose (actor and executive producer), Darren Dean (producer), Tommy Oliver (producer), Deatra Harris (producer)
Terri Azazel Jacobs 2011 Jacob Wysocki Post-film Q&A included Azazel Jacobs and Jacob Wysocki
On Borrowed Time David Bradbury 2011 Paul Cox Paul Cox
Wild AND Weird: The Alloy Orchestra Plays 10 Fascinating and Innovative Films 1906–1926 1906–1926 Alloy Orchestra played live accompaniment
A Separation Asghar Farhadi 2011 Peyman Mouadi, Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat, Shahab Hosseini, Sarina Farhadi Peyman Mouadi was scheduled to attend but did not. The post-film Q&A, moderated by blogger Nell Minow, included Paul Cox, blogger Omer Mozaffar and distributor Michael Barker of Sony Pictures Classics
Higher Ground Vera Farmiga 2011 Vera Farmiga, Joshua Leonard, Norbert Leo Butz, Donna Murphy Post-film Q&A included writer Carolyn S. Briggs, who based the film on her memoir This Dark World, with blogger Nell Minow
Patang (The Kite) Prashant Bhargava 2011 Seema Biswas, Nawazuddin Siddiqui Post-film Q&A included Prashant Bhargava, Vijay Bhargava (executive producer), James Townsend (writer), Seema Biswas, Nawazuddin Siddiqui
Take Shelter Jeff Nichols 2011 Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain Post-film Q&A included Jeff Nichols, Michael Shannon, distributor Michael Barker of Sony Pictures Classics
Citizen Kane Orson Welles 1941 Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Ruth Warrick The film was shown using Roger Ebert's commentary track, recorded in 2006 (before Ebert lost his voice). The post-show Q&A featured scholar David Bordwell with audio commentary producer Jeffrey Lerner. Chaz Ebert was visibly moved, stating that although she had seen the film, she had never heard the commentary track, and felt lucky to hear her husband's voice again in the Virginia Theatre

2011[edit]

[8]

Title Director Year Starring Notes
Metropolis Fritz Lang 1927 Brigitte Helm, Gustav Fröhlich, Alfred Abel, Rudolf Klein-Rogge 2010 restoration. Alloy Orchestra played live accompaniment
Natural Selection Robbie Pickering 2010 Rachael Harris Post-film Q&A included Robbie Pickering and Rachael Harris
Umberto D Vittorio De Sica 1952 Carlo Battisti Post-film Q&A included Ignatiy Vishnevetsky and Omer Mozaffar
My Dog Tulip Paul Fierlinger and Sandra Schuette Fierlinger 2010 Christopher Plummer (narrator) Post-film Q&A included Paul Fierlinger and Sandra Schuette Fierlinger
Tiny Furniture Lena Dunham 2010 Lena Dunham, Laurie Simmons, Grace Dunham, Alex Karpovsky, David Call Post-film Q&A included David Call and distributor Ryan Werner
45365 Turner Ross and Bill Ross IV 2009 Townspeople of Sidney, Ohio Post-film Q&A included Turner Ross and Bill Ross IV
Me & Orson Welles Richard Linklater 2009 Christian McKay, Claire Danes, Zac Efron Post-film Q&A included Richard Linklater
Only You Norman Jewison 1994 Robert Downey, Jr., Marisa Tomei, Bonnie Hunt Post-film Q&A included Norman Jewison
A Small Act Jennifer Arnold 2010 Chris Mburu, Jane Wanjiru Muigai, Hilde Back Post-film Q&A included Jennifer Arnold, Hilde Back and producer Patti Lee
Life Above All Oliver Schmitz 2010 Khomotso Manyaka, Keaobaka Makanyane, Harriet Lenabe Post-film Q&A included Oliver Schmitz, Khomotso Manyaka and distributor Michael Barker
Leaves of Grass Tim Blake Nelson 2009 Edward Norton, Tim Blake Nelson, Susan Sarandon Post-film Q&A included Tim Blake Nelson
I Am Love Luca Guadagnino 2010 Tilda Swinton, Flavio Parenti, Edoardo Gabbriellini, Marisa Berenson Post-film Q&A included Tilda Swinton and Michael Barker
Louder Than a Bomb Jon Siskel and Greg Jacobs 2010 Kevin Coval, Adam Gottlieb, Elizabeth Graf, Kevin Harris and other students Post-film Q&A included Jon Siskel, Greg Jacobs, founder and artistic director Kevin Coval and Steinmetz High School poets Lamar Jorden, Charles Smith, She'Kira McNight, Kevin Harris and Jésus Lark

Name change[edit]

In April 2007 it was announced that beginning in 2008 with the tenth festival "overlooked" would be dropped from the name and subsequent events would simply be known as "Roger Ebert's Film Festival." This does not necessarily indicate any change in the philosophy or theme but will simply eliminate the need to explain when current or even unreleased films are included which has sometimes been the case. They have sometimes been jokingly referred to as "pre-overlooked."

External links[edit]

References[edit]