Roger's statement about Kindness always fills me with joy and hope. It reads, "Kindness covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out."
Roger wrote those words after he had been in and out of hospital beds for a year. It astonished and delighted me that even after living with a catastrophic illness he was inspired to end his statement thusly: "WE MUST CONTRIBUTE JOY TO THE WORLD. THAT IS TRUE NO MATTER WHAT OUR PROBLEMS, OUR HEALTH, OUR CIRCUMSTANCES." One of Roger's sources of joy was our film festival, which was originally called "Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival," and now affectionately called Ebertfest.
As we now know, Ebertfest and most other in-person gatherings for 2020 were cancelled, and we moved into a period of lockdowns and quarantine. We are slowly opening up again and emerging from that period but it still seems almost incredible to look back at the Ebertfest videos and see people standing in crowds talking, sitting right next to each other, and hugging and shaking hands. It also represents the time that half of our directors at Ebertfest were women: Ava Duverany, Julie Dash, Amma Asante, Martha Coolidge, Sherri Springer Berman and Catherine Bainbridge. We also threw a street party where we had a band and danced and ate ice cream. The audience was so appreciative. It was just joyous. This video gave me a jolt of joy, untamed joy, so I wanted to share it with you.
By the way, Passes for the 2021 Roger Ebert’s Film Festival, or “Ebertfest,” will go on sale Tuesday, June 1, at the official sites of Ebertfest and its main venue, The Virginia Theatre, 203 W. Park Avenue, Champaign, Illinois. They can also be purchased by calling the theater box office at 217-356-9063. Hope to see you there.—Chaz Ebert
A few past visitors to the festival include Nancy Allen, Steven Apkon, Ramin Bahrani, Renée Baker, Michael Barker, Seymour Bernstein, Charles Burnett, Michael Butler, Veronica Cartwright, Arthur C. Clarke, Paul Cox, Billy Crudup, Hugh Dancy, Guillermo del Toro, Caleb Deschanel, Keir Dullea, Robert Forster, Gina Gershon, Andrew Harvey, Michael Hausman, Werner Herzog, Isabelle Huppert, Norman Jewison, Charlie Kaufman, Maja Komorowska, Kris Kristofferson, Neil LaBute, Brie Larson, Norman Lear, Ang Lee, Spike Lee, Kasi Lemmons, Richard Linklater, Guy Maddin, John Malkovich, Andrew Miano, Bennett Miller, Gregory Nava, Norman Lear, Tim Blake Nelson, Jeff Nichols, Bill Nighy, Patton Oswalt, Chazz Palminteri, Rebecca Parrish, Father Michael Pfleger, Michael Polish, Alan Polsky, James Ponsoldt, Alex Proyas, Bob Rafelson, Alan Rickman, Gil Robertson, Gary Ross, Paul Schrader, Jason Segel, Michael Shannon, Timothy Spall, Oliver Stone, Tilda Swinton, Rita Taggart, Anna Thomas, Jennifer Tilly, David Warner, Paul Weitz, Haskell Wexler, Scott Wilson, Irwin Winkler, Shailene Woodley and Terry Zwigoff.
The festival passes cover all screenings during the festival, held in the ornate Virginia Theatre, a restored downtown Champaign movie palace. Related talks and panel discussions will be held at the Hyatt Place hotel in downtown Champaign and at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The lineup of films, guests and other events will be announced several weeks before the festival.
In addition to celebrated films, the festival presents cinematic works overlooked by audiences, critics or distributors, and academic panels plus speakers currently working in various segments of the film industry.
Below you'll find a video chronicling the 20th anniversary edition of Ebertfest from 2018...
Header photos by Timothy Hiatt, courtesy of Ebertfest.