Ebertfest returns to Champaign

The Roger Ebert Film Festival returns to Champaign on Wednesday, with a full slate of films and speakers in its 22nd year.

“We’ll be showing movies that will make you laugh and make you cry, and some filled with so much music you’ll want to dance,” said Chaz Ebert, widow of Roger Ebert and co-founder of the event. “But, above all, we will enjoy getting together, in person, to joyfully celebrate cinema on the big screen as a community.”

The film festival, more commonly known as Ebertfest and known for showcasing Oscar-winning or Oscar-nominated films, will include smaller and “overlooked” films this year, Chaz Ebert said.

“Some of the smaller theaters that showed independent and art films, including the Art Theater in Champaign, which was one of Roger’s favorite theaters, will never reopen,” she said. “We have therefore carefully selected a selection of independent films, specially chosen for our family of Ebertfest film lovers, to come to our big screen at the beautifully renovated movie palace, the Virginia Theatre.”

In addition to screenings at the Virginia Theater, lectures and panel discussions will take place at the Hyatt Place Hotel in Champaign and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Films screened include Guillermo del Toro’s ‘Nightmare Alley’, Ramin Bahrani’s ‘The White Tiger’ and Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The 39 Steps’. One of the lesser known titles will be “Gilbert”, which takes an intimate behind-the-scenes look at the life and career of Gilbert Gottfried. The comedian, who died on Tuesday, was to come to the festival to discuss the film.

Krisha Fairchild will talk about her film “Krisha,” which is about life, alcoholism, recovery and family; and Jason Delane Lee and Yvonne Huff Lee will discuss the nature of identity with a screening of their short film “Lifeline.”

Opening night will include a performance by alternative country musician Clem Snide and, following a screening of the Oscar-winning documentary “Summer of Soul”, a performance by jazz singer Tammy McCann with Aplustrodamus and Ther’Up.Y.

• 7:00 p.m. Wednesday – “Summer of Soul” with special guests Clem Snide, Tammy McCann and Ther’Up.Y

• 9:30 am Thursday – “The Phantom of the Open” with special guest Michael Barker

• 1:30 p.m. Thursday – “The 39 Steps” with special guests Michael Barker, Michael Phillips and Ramin Bahrani

• 4pm Thursday – “Gilbert” with special guest Neil Berkeley

• 8:00 p.m. Thursday – “French Exit” with special guests Michael Barker and Azazel Jacobs

• 9:30 am Friday – “Passing” with special guests Jason Delane Lee, Yvonne Huff Lee and Brenda Robinson

• Friday 2pm – “Golden Arm” with special guests Anne Marie Allison, Jenna Milly and Olivia Stambouliah

• 4:30 p.m. Friday – “The White Tiger” with special guest Ramin Bahrani

• 8:30 p.m. Friday – “Ghost World” with special guests Terry Zwigoff and Thora Birch

• 10:00 am April 23 – “Siren of the Tropics” with special guests Renee Baker and Douglas A. Williams

• 1.30pm April 23 – “Krisha” with special guest Krisha Fairchild

• 4:00 p.m. April 23 – “Soy Cubana” with special guests Jeremy Ungar and Robin Miller Ungar

• 8:30 pm April 23 – “Nightmare Alley” (black and white film version) with special guests Guillermo del Toro and Kim Morgan

Renee Baker and her orchestra will also return to the festival to provide music for a screening of the silent film “Siren of the Tropics,” starring St. Louis native Josephine Baker.

The Ebertfest ticket office will include reserved seating to reduce capacity and provide spacing between groups. The Virginia Theater also installed a new ventilation system.

Passes are available for $200 each or four for $700. Individual movie tickets are $20 for general public or $15 for University of Illinois students. Passes and tickets can be purchased on the festival website at ebertfest.com or at the Virginia Theater box office at 217-356-9063.

Roger Ebert is a University of Illinois graduate and Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic. He died in 2013.