Our films may make you laugh or they may make you cry, but being together as a community once again in the beautiful movie palace will definitely warm your heart…
I am elated that we will be able to meet in person at the Virginia Theatre for Ebertfest from Wednesday, April 20th, through Saturday, April 23rd, 2022. We will be welcoming dynamic directors such as Oscar-winner Guillermo del Toro (“Nightmare Alley“), along with his co-writer and past “At the Movies” correspondent Kim Morgan; Oscar nominees Terry Zwigoff (“Ghost World“) and Ramin Bahrani (“The White Tiger“); acclaimed director Azazel Jacobs (“French Exit“) and Sony Pictures Classics Co-President Michael Baker.
Today, I am also pleased to announce additional guests like the beloved comedian Gilbert Gottfried, the subject of Neil Berkeley‘s prize-winning documentary. We have a great mix of the new and old, the independent and the classics. Our audiences asked for Hitchcock, and we have a classic Alfred Hitchcock film, “The 39 Steps,” that is lesser known and lesser seen than “Rear Window” or “Vertigo.” It was a favorite of my late husband Roger, and he thought that watching it gave you a keen insight into Hitchcock’s later films. We will take a look at identity through films like “Lifeline,” and “Passing” with guests Jason Delane Lee, Yvonne Huff Lee and Brenda Robinson. And we will welcome to the stage women who will show us a slice of life little-known, namely female arm wrestling, with the directorial debut of Maureen Bharoocha’s “Golden Arm.” The producer, screenwriter and stars are all scheduled to attend.
Music is an international language and we will be honoring it with a return of the elegant Renee Baker and the Chicago Modern Orchestra, as well as Questlove‘s Oscar-winning documentary, “Summer of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” about a music concert that has been affectionately called “The Black Woodstock,” but had not received the same amount of publicity until now. It just took home an Oscar this past Sunday night.
The opening night fare will contain diverse voices starting with alt-country/folk/rock artist Clem Snide with the song “Roger Ebert,” followed by acclaimed jazz and torch singer Tammy McCann performing with Champaign’s own Aplustrodamus and Ther’Up.Y (pronounced “Therapy”). The band’s leader emphasizes the therapeutic nature music has for us, especially in these perilous times. In that vein, we will also show “Soy Cubana,” with director Jeremy Ungar and producer Robin Ungar appearing.
Some of the small theaters that showed independent and art movies, including the Art Theater in Champaign, which was one of Roger’s favorite cinemas, will never open again as a result of the ongoing pandemic. So, we have carefully curated a selection of independent films, especially chosen for our Ebertfest family of movie lovers, to come to our big screen at the beautifully renovated movie palace, the Virginia Theater. Ebertfest has taken extra precautions, going beyond local measures to make audiences feel comfortable. The festival is introducing reserved ticketing for the first time to reduce capacity and provide ample spacing between groups. And best of all, the Virginia Theater has installed a new state-of-the-art ventilation system.
Enjoy this video clip of Ebertfest put together for us by one our sponsors, Fandor/Cinedigm, one of the premiere independent streaming digital content companies…
And, now I’m proud to present a closer look at some of the films scheduled to screen at Ebertfest 2022…
I. OSCAR CONTENDERS
A cherished Ebertfest guest from previous years will be returning to the festival: Terry Zwigoff, the writer and director of 2001’s beloved adaptation of Daniel Clowes graphic novel, “Ghost World.” Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson play sardonic high school graduates whose efforts to prank a lonely man (Steve Buscemi) leads them down an unexpected path of growth in their lives. “I wanted to hug this movie,” wrote Roger in his four-star review. “It takes such a risky journey and never steps wrong. It creates specific, original, believable, lovable characters, and meanders with them through their inconsolable days, never losing its sense of humor.”
Special guests: Terry Zwigoff and Thora Birch
We are thrilled to be welcoming back Oscar-winner Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water“) along with his wife and co-writer Kim Morgan (previously featured as an “At the Movies” correspondent) with their new noir masterwork, “Nightmare Alley,” an Academy Award nominee this year for Best Picture. Bradley Cooper stars as a carny harboring demons whose powers of manipulation lead him on a dangerous road toward success. Roger wrote that Del Toro “is a director with a genuine visual sense, with a way of drawing us into his story and evoking the mood with the very look and texture of his shots,” and that is certainly the case with “Nightmare Alley,” which will be screened in a special black-and-white version that represents the filmmakers’ original vision for the film. In his four-star review, Carlos Aguilar wrote that the film is “hypnotic with its increasingly tense slow-burning plot progression and alluring atmosphere.”
Special guests: Guillermo del Toro and Kim Morgan
“SUMMER OF SOUL (…OR, WHEN THE REVOLUTION COULD NOT BE TELEVISED)”
One of the 2021’s most joyous and eye-opening cinematic experiences, Questlove’s “Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Be Not Televised”) features extraordinary footage of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival where various Black music legends performed. In his four-star review, Odie Henderson described how he felt after seeing the picture: “I walked down to what is now Marcus Garvey Park and I stood inside, looking around and picturing the energy, the camaraderie and, oh yes, the Blackness that emanated from those concerts. It was hot as Hell outside, but I felt simultaneously exhilarated and haunted, as if some energetic remnant of the Harlem Culture Festival were still hanging in the air, passing through me and touching my soul. That’s what it feels like to watch ‘Summer of Soul.’ Its existence is a testament to Hal Tulchin, to whom the film is dedicated, and to Questlove, who has pulled it all together with immense love and undeniable talent.”
Special Musical Performances by: Miss Tammy McCann and Aplustrodamus and the Ther’UP.Y band
“THE WHITE TIGER”
A filmmaker greatly praised by Roger, Ramin Bahrani, will return to Ebertfest with the film that earned him a long-overdue Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Based on the New York Times bestseller by Aravind Adiga, the film stars Adarsh Gourav as an impoverished Indian man who attempts to escape his circumstances by driving wealthy clients, a job he embraces with fierce ambition. “Gourav hardens before our eyes in a performance that flits back and forth between immature recklessness, calcifying fury, and justified braggadocio, and that multifaceted quality is key to the intentionally uncomfortable rags-to-riches nature of ‘The White Tiger,'” wrote our contributor Roxana Hadadi in her review.
Special guest: Ramin Bahrani
“SIREN OF THE TROPICS”
The esteemed Renee Baker Orchestra will return to Ebertfest to provide live musical accompaniment to Henri Étiévant’s 1927 silent classic, “Siren of the Tropics,” starring Josephine Baker, who recently was inducted into the French Pantheon, the highest award in France. According to Silent London editor Pamela Hutchinson, “Josephine Baker isn’t just the star of the film, she is giving a career-defining star performance. Not least because this film fictionalizes the creation of her star persona. It’s the story of a young woman from the Caribbean who falls in love with a man and follows him to Paris. While searching for him, she is scouted by nightclub impresarios and becomes the toast of the city. Finally reunited with her love, she sees that they can never be together and she makes a sacrifice for him before sailing away to America to start a new life. It’s a complete fiction, but one that hits on all the aspects of Baker’s persona that would have been familiar to her audience. It’s her ‘A Star is Born.'”
Special guests: Renee Baker and the Chicago Modern Orchestra
“THE 39 STEPS”
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 masterpiece of suspense paved the way for many of his future classics, particularly “North by Northwest.” Robert Donat stars as an agent wrongly accused of murder who must evade capture while stopping a spy ring. He eventually ends up handcuffed to Madeleine Carroll, playing one of the early incarnations of Hitchcock’s “icy blondes.” “Most ‘pure’ movie thrillers, especially when you think of Hitchcock, are either fantasies fulfilled or anxieties purged,” said “Chinatown” screenwriter Robert Towne to Michael Sragow of The New Yorker. “‘The 39 Steps’ is one of the few, if not the only one, that does both at the same time. He puts you into this paranoid fantasy of being accused of murder and being shackled to a beautiful girl—of escaping from all kinds of harm, and at the same time trying to save your country, really. A Hitchcock film like ‘Psycho’ is strictly an anxiety purge. ‘The 39 Steps’ gives you that and the fantasy fulfilled. It’s kind of a neat trick, really.”
Special guests: Krystal Vander Ark of Fandor and Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune
III. MAKE ‘EM LAUGH!
Another dynamic directors scheduled to return to this year’s festival is Azazel Jacobs to screen his film, “French Exit,” starring Michelle Pfeiffer in a performance that earned her a Canadian Screen Award for Best Actress. She portrays a Manhattan socialite attempting to live on her dwindling inheritance along with her son (Lucas Hedges). “Pfeiffer’s performance only becomes richer as her character reveals the kindness that’s been buried within her cool, stylish persona all this time,” wrote Christy Lemire in her review.
Special guests: Director Azazel Jacobs and Michael Barker- Co-President of Sony Pictures Classics
Neil Berkeley takes us behind the scenes in the real life of the comedian, Gilbert Gottfried for this intimate and poignant portrait. What is Gottfried like when the cameras are not on. And who is the woman beside the man. Anyone who grew up with Disney’s “Aladdin” has a special place in their heart for this uproarious comedian who achieved cinematic immortality with his role as Iago, the cranky feathered henchman of Jafar, according to Matt Fagerholm, who interviewed Gottfried at Hot Docs (you can read their conversation here). But what is he like in the unexamined terrain of fatherhood, and does he think it is ever “too soon” to tell a joke about a tragedy? We will find out when we welcome him to Ebertfest.
Special guests: Gilbert Gottfried and Director Neil Berkeley
This year’s recipient of the coveted Golden Thumb Award at Ebertfest is Maureen Bharoocha’s crowd-pleasing comedy about the quirky contestants in the National Ladies Arm Wrestling Championship. In her review published at Indiewire, Kate Erbland wrote that the film “reinvents the sports movie with such pluck that it should please every stripe of arm wrestling comedy fan,” praising its “go-for-broke performance by star Mary Holland” for bringing “heart, humanity and plenty of humor” to the picture.
Special guests: Brigid Brakefield, Anne Marie Allison, Olivia Stambouliah and Jenny Milly
IV. ACCLAIMED INDIES
Winner of both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2015 SXSW Film Festival, Trey Edward Shults’ “Krisha” stars Krisha Fairchild as a woman who returns to her family after a ten-year absence for a Thanksgiving dinner fraught with tension. According to Sheila O’Malley in her rave review, the film is “an assault, from the first unforgettable moment on, and Shults’ style clues you in from the get-go that this won’t be your familiar ‘addiction/redemption tale.’ This is going to be something very, very different. This tour de force is even more astonishing when you learn that it is Shults’ first feature.”
Special guest: Krisha Fairchild
The nature of identity is explored in this short film by Jason Delane Lee and Yvonne Huff Lee, who also served as executive producers for the feature that will be shown immediately afterward (see below)…
Special guests: Jason Delane Lee and Yvonne Huff Lee
I am thrilled to present Rebecca Hall’s first film as a director, “Passing.” This film was widely acclaimed garnering BAFTA nominations and winning Spirit Awards from Film Independent as well as awards from Black Reel Awards, among others. Based on the 1929 novella by Nella Larsen, the film stars Oscar-nominee Ruth Negga (“Loving”) and Emmy-nominee Tessa Thompson (“Sylvie's Love“) as Clare and Irene, respectively—two African-American high school friends whose lives take a dramatic turn as adults. Negga’s character is passing as white but has an openly racist husband (Alexander Skaarsgard), who has no idea of the secret she is hiding. Thompson’s character chooses to live as Black, and has a rich social and family life in Harlem with her doctor husband (Andre Holland). “The entire film exists in this perpetual state of a deceptively gentle push and pull,” wrote Odie Henderson in his review. “It’s a masterful balance of tone.”
Special guests: Executive Producers Brenda Robinson, Jason Delane Lee, Yvonne Huff Lee and Chaz Ebert
Winner of the Audience Award at last year’s SXSW Film Festival, Ivaylo Getov and Jeremy Ungar’s documentary revolves around Vocals Vidas, an all-female Cuban quartet. Christopher Llewellyn Reed of Film Festival Today hailed the film as ” a lovely portrait, filled with beautiful music and engaging protagonists […] gorgeously photographed and a model of documentary access,” illustrating that “music is a powerful tool of diplomacy.”
Special guests: Director Jeremy Ungar and Producer Robin Ungar
Ebertfest will be held at the Virginia Theatre in downtown Champaign, and is a special collaboration of Chaz Ebert and the College of Media at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The festival will announce additional filmmaker guests in the coming weeks.
Passes are available for $200, including all processing fees. Four passes purchased together are $700. Also available are a small number of University of Illinois student passes priced at $150 each. Individual movie tickets will be available Friday, April 1st, at $20 for the general public or $15 for University of Illinois students. Passes and tickets may be purchased through the festival website or at the Virginia Theatre box office, 203 W. Park Ave., Champaign, 217-356-9063. Updates will be posted on the festival website. Depending on available seating, tickets for individual movies may be available April 1st.
For additional information, please visit http://www.ebertfest.com.