CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The festival will
begin in a troubling future world of made-to-order babies. Later it
will travel to a tradition-bound African village, to horrors in
18th-century Paris, to a silent Pago-Pago, the streets of Rome, an
odd Wisconsin, a gritty American South, and finally to Roger Ebert's
own satirical vision of '60s-era Hollywood.
The stops are just a few in a
five-day, 13-film trip through the ninth annual Roger Ebert's
Overlooked Film Festival, or "Ebertfest," coming April 25-29 to
The festival will open on a Wednesday evening with "Gattaca," a
science fiction thriller, and close on Sunday with the 1970 cult
film "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls," written by Ebert. Following
"Dolls" will be a performance by Strawberry Alarm Clock, a '60s rock
band that appears in the film, the original members reuniting after
almost four decades.
Among the guests scheduled to
attend the festival are Alan Rickman, who plays the character
Severus Snape in the "Harry Potter" films, and Joey Lauren Adams,
who played the title role in "Chasing Amy."
In between the opening and closing days, the festival will feature
films by renowned foreign directors, documentaries focused on two
very different musicians, personal films dealing with disappointment
and loneliness, an African film about the continuing practice of
female circumcision, and a free family film about a bizarre juvenile
detention center that makes boys dig holes in the desert.
Also on the program, as usual, is a silent film, which will be
accompanied for the first time by the Champaign-Urbana Symphony.
The 13 screenings will take place at the 1,500-seat Virginia
Theater, a 1920s-era Champaign movie palace, with other events at
the University of Illinois. The festival is a special event of the
College of Communications at
Ebert is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning
critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and co-hosts "Ebert & Roeper," a
weekly televised movie-review program. He also is a 1964 Illinois
journalism graduate and U. of I. adjunct
Ebert selects films for the festival that he feels have been
overlooked in some way, either by critics, distributors or
audiences, or because they come from overlooked genres or formats,
such as documentaries.
Guests connected with the selected films are invited to attend, and
many appear on stage for informal discussions after the screenings.
In past years, Ebert appeared on stage and interviewed the guests,
but his role at this year's festival will be limited to that of an
audience member as he continues to recover from a long illness.
This year's schedule of films, with the current lineup of guests
(many of Ebert's comments are from past reviews):
Wednesday, April 25
7 p.m. – "Gattaca" (1997), about a future world in which test-tube
babies are made to order for looks, brains and long life span, and
the naturally born are second-class citizens. It stars Ethan Hawke,
Jude Law and Uma Thurman, and "is one of the smartest and most
provocative of science fiction films, a thriller with ideas,"
according to Ebert. Producer Michael Shamberg will be a guest on
stage after the screening.
Thursday, April 26
12:30 p.m. – "The Weather Man" (2005), "a stunning portrait of a sad
loser in crisis," according to Ebert. The film stars Nicolas Cage,
with Michael Caine as his father, a famous author who has always
been disappointed in his son and cannot forgive failure. Writer
Steven Conrad and actor Gil Bellows will be guests.
3:30 p.m. – "Moolaade" (2004), "a story vibrating with urgency and
life," according to Ebert, even though it centers on the difficult
subject of female circumcision in an African village. Written and
directed by Ousmane Sembene, sometimes called the father of African
cinema, the film was Ebert's pick as the best at the 2004 Cannes
Film Festival. Professor Samba Gadjigo, whose research focuses on
Sembene's work, and actress Fatoumata Coulibaly, who plays the
film's lead character, will be guests.
8:30 p.m. – "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" (2006), a very dark
film about a man with an acute sense of smell who can create the
finest perfumes, but whose obsession leads him down a gruesome path.
Dustin Hoffman and Alan Rickman play supporting roles. "You may not
savor (the film), but you will not stop watching it, in horror and
fascination," Ebert says. Rickman will be a guest.
Friday, April 27
Noon – "Sadie Thompson" (1928), this year's silent film, accompanied
for the first time by the Champaign-Urbana Symphony. Gloria Swanson,
in an Oscar-nominated role, plays a woman trapped on the tropical
island of Pago-Pago, confronted about her lifestyle by a crusading
missionary played by Lionel Barrymore. On stage afterward as guests
will be symphony conductor Steven Larsen, composer Joseph Turrin and
film scholar David Bordwell.
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3 p.m. – "Come Early Morning" (2006),
a character study starring Ashley Judd as a small-town woman caught
in a pattern of drunkenness and one-night stands, but who also holds
down an important job and goes to church with her father. Ebert says
Judd's performance is among her best work, and first-time director
Joey Lauren Adams "has the assurance of a thoughtful filmmaker who
knows her characters and how to tell their stories." Adams and actor
Scott Wilson will be guests.
7:30 p.m. – "La Dolce Vita" (1960), among the best-known films by
the renowned Italian director Federico Fellini. It follows a gossip
columnist who chronicles the lives of "fading aristocrats,
second-rate movie stars, aging playboys and women of commerce,"
Ebert says. The film was shot on the Via Veneto, a Roman street of
nightclubs and sidewalk cafes, and "leaps from one visual
extravaganza to another." Guests will be David Poland, writer of the
daily online column The Hot Button, and Michael Barker, co-president
of Sony Pictures Classics.
11:30 p.m. – "Freddie Mercury, the Untold Story" (2000), a
television documentary film about the late rock musician, best known
as the lead singer and pianist for Queen. The film follows the
future Mercury, born Farrokh Bulsara, through his childhood and
youth in Zanzibar, India and London, and then chronicles his music
career and personal life. The film features interviews with
Mercury's fellow band members and with members of his family.
Director Rudi Dolezal will be a guest.
Saturday, April 28
11 a.m. – "Holes" (2003), about an odd juvenile correction center in
the middle of the desert that requires the boys sentenced there to
dig 5-foot holes day after day. Based on the much-honored and -loved
young adult novel by Louis Sachar, who also wrote the screenplay,
the film "jumps the rails, leaves all expectations behind, and tells
a story that's not funny ha-ha but funny peculiar," says Ebert.
Director and Illinois alumnus Andy Davis, who also directed "The
Fugitive," will be a guest. The film is this year's free family
2:30 p.m. – "Man of Flowers" (1983), about a lonely middle-aged man
who channels his repressed sexual desires into a world of art and
fantasy, and about his involvement with an attractive young artist's
model who undresses for him. According to reviewer Denis Schwartz,
it is an "intelligently provocative, lyrical film about how
fantasies can enrich our lives and how damning loneliness can be."
The respected Australian director Paul Cox and actor Werner Herzog
will be guests.
7 p.m. – "Stroszek" (1977), a film by Herzog, a critically acclaimed
German director, about three people with nothing in common: a
retarded ex-prisoner, a little old man and a prostitute. The story
follows them as they travel from Germany to begin a new life in a
house trailer in Wisconsin. It is "one of the oddest films ever
made," according to Ebert. "It is impossible for the audience to
anticipate a single shot or development." Herzog once again will be
a guest on stage.
10:30 p.m. – "Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus" (2005), a
documentary that follows an "alt-country" singer, Jim White, in his
travels through the South and his encounters with a slice of white
Southern culture. Along the way, he meets other musicians, and his
stops include churches, prisons, truck stops, biker bars and coal
mines. Director Andrew Douglas will be a guest and White will
perform on stage after the screening.
Sunday, April 29
Noon – "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" (1970), a film written by
Ebert and directed by Russ Meyer, about three young women seeking
their fame and fortune in Hollywood, and their encounters with sex,
violence and drugs. Ebert describes it as "pure movie without
message" and "a satire of Hollywood conventions, genres, situations,
dialogue, characters and success formulas," overlaid with extreme
violence. The movie was rated X, but a "very mild X," according to
Ebert, and probably could have been rated R in later years with a
few small cuts. Guests will be Actress Marcia McBroom, who played
one of the three women, and film critic Peter Sobczynski. Strawberry
Alarm Clock will perform on stage afterward to close the festival.
Other festival events, including panel discussions held on the U. of
I. campus, will be announced soon. Updates on the festival will be
posted on the festival Web site:
Tickets for individual films will go on sale April 6 through the
theater box office; phone 217-356-9063; fax: 217-356-5729. The price
will be $10 each for regular admission and $8 each for students and
The 1,000 festival passes, covering all 13 screenings, went on sale
Nov. 1 and sold out within two weeks. It marked the third year in a
row that passes were sold out before the films were announced.
Those seeking additional information and updates on films, guests
and festival events should contact either Mary Susan Britt, at
217-244-0552, or by e-mail at
firstname.lastname@example.org, or festival director Nate Kohn, at
706-542-4972, or by e-mail at
[Text copied from
University of Illinois news release]