EbertFest draws crowds for 18th year

This year EbertFest, a movie festival named for famous movie critic Roger Ebert, will take place from April 13-17 at the Historic Virginia Theater in Champaign IL.

Roger Ebert began his career as a film critic in 1957. He worked for the Chicago Sun Times for forty-six years until his death in April of 2013. While at the Sun Times, he became the first film critic to ever win the Pulitzer Prize in 1975.

Ebert earned his place on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and remains the only film critic whose name appears on a star. He was named an honorary life member of the Directors Guild of America and an honorary member of the Society of Cinematographers.

Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, a notable film critic for the Chicago Tribune, began co-hosting their television show, “Sneak Previews” in 1975. Here, they would review films and discuss their difference of beliefs about the featured film.

In 2014 Ebert was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Screenwriters Guild. In 2001 he received the highest honor given by the State of Illinois, the Order of Lincoln.

EbertFest began in 1999 when Ebert and his wife Chaz launched “Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival”, which quickly came to be known and referred to simply as “EbertFest”. The festival takes place every April at the Historic Virginia Theater in Ebert’s hometown of Champaign.

While at the festival, audience members watch a screening of a film, and usually after the movie is over, there is a discussion about the film. How it was made, what moved the director to do a certain thing, the impact that the film has had over time, etc.

Often times, the director or an actor from the film will attend the showing. These people will then participate in the discussion after the screening.

Before his death, Ebert would speak to audiences before the film, introducing it and explaining the film’s meaning or impact to him, and then lead the discussion after the showing.

Even though he has since passed away, Ebert’s influence on the festival continues. The films screened during the five day event represent cinematic works overlooked by audiences, critics, and distributors. This way of selecting films is true to Ebert’s original vision of the festival.

“Seeing any movie in The Virginia is a wonderful experience, it’s a beautiful theater,” comments Elli Alvis, a freshman at Saint Ambrose University and a 2015 graduate of Normal West. “But being able to see a movie there, and then listen to people directly involved in the making of the film talk about it, that’s another level.”

Ms. Alvis attended EbertFest in 2015, seeing the movie A Bronx Tale (1993). After the showing Chazz Palminteri, one of the top billed cast members, was in attendance and participated in the discussion following the film.

This year EbertFest is set to take place from April 13-17. This year, the festival features 13 films, including: Crimson Peak (2015), The Third Man (1949), Eve’s Bayou (1997), and Body and Soul (1925).

Prominent directors and actors such as Guillermo Del Toro, Nancy Allen, and Paul Weitz will be attending their respective screens and adding to the discussion taking place after the film.

Individual tickets can be purchased for $15 or passes to attend the entire festival for $150.
To gain admittance to a sold out show patrons can go to the Virginia Theatre Box Office 30 minutes before screening time and wait in the rush ticket line. Shortly before the film begins, any empty seats will be sold on a first-come first-served basis.