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Ebertfest 2018 Guests: Part II

We are thrilled to announce the amazing guests scheduled to attend Ebertfest 2018, running Wednesday, April 18th, through Sunday, April 22nd, in Champaign, Illinois. Here is the second of two posts compiling the bios of each filmmaker and special guest who will be joining us onstage for Q&As after each screening (click here for Part One). Look forward to seeing all of you next week!—Chaz Ebert


10:30am "13th"

Nominated for the Academy Award and winner of four Emmys as well as BAFTA and Peabody Awards, Ava DuVernay's "13th" was one of the most critically-acclaimed films of 2016. In 2015, DuVernay directed the historical drama "Selma," which garnered four Golden Globe nominations and two Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. Her current work includes the critically-acclaimed drama series "Queen Sugar," the Disney fantasy epic "A Wrinkle In Time," and a film adaption chronicling the notorious Central Park Five case. Winner of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival's Best Director prize for her previous feature "Middle of Nowhere," DuVernay's early directorial work includes "I Will Follow," "Venus Vs." and "This Is the Life." 

‎In 2017, DuVernay was named one of Fortune Magazine's 50 Greatest World Leaders and TIME Magazine's 100 Most Influential People.‎  She also distributes and amplifies the work of people of color and women directors through her film collective ARRAY, named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies. DuVernay sits on the boards of both Sundance Institute and Film Independent.

2:30pm "Daughters of the Dust"

Twenty-six years ago, filmmaker Julie Dash broke through racial and gender boundaries with her Sundance award-winning film (Best Cinematography) "Daughters of the Dust," and she became the first African American woman to have a wide theatrical release of her feature film. In 2004, The Library of Congress placed Daughters of the Dust in the National Film Registry where it joins a select group of American films preserved and protected as national treasures by the Librarian of Congress; Dash is the only African American woman with a feature film that has been inducted into the National Film Registry.

Julie Dash is the recent recipient of the Special Award at the 82nd New York Film Critics Circle, the 2017 Women & Hollywood Trailblazer Award, and the 2017 New York Women in Film & Television MUSE Award.

Dash directed multiple episodes of the award-winning dramatic series, "Queen Sugar, Season 2," created and produced by Ava DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey, for OWN Television. Last year she hosted The Golden Years, a limited series for Turner Classic Movies.

Dash has written and directed for CBS, BET, ENCORE STARZ, SHOWTIME, MTV Movies, HBO, and OWN Television. She directed the NAACP Image Award winning, Emmy and DGA nominated, "The Rosa Parks Story," "Incognito," "Funny Valentines," "Love Song," and "Subway Stories: Tales From The Underground." Her work as a film director includes museum and theme park exhibits and design for Disney’s Imagineering, Brothers of the Borderland for The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center Museum, and Smuggling Daydreams into Reality for the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Her most recent museum installations include Standing at The Scratch Line, at the Philadelphia Museum of African American History, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Shine a Light, a large-scale video mapping projection for the Charles H. Wright Museum in Detroit.

Dash has a feature length documentary in-progress about Vertamae Smart Grosvenor, a world-renowned author, performer, and chef from rural South Carolina who has led a remarkably unique and complex life. The film is based upon Grosvenor’s bestselling work, Vibration Cooking: or the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl. She is also scheduled to direct the film adaptation of "The Dark at the End of the Street," the events leading up to the historic Montgomery bus boycott with Rosa Parks.

She earned her MFA in Film & Television production at UCLA; received her BA in Film Production from CCNY, and she was a Producing and Writing Conservatory Fellow at AFI, the American Film Institute’s Center for Advanced Film Studies.

Julie Dash is currently the Distinguished Professor of Art & Visual Culture at Spelman College.

5:30pm "Rambling Rose"

Martha Coolidge is one of America’s most distinguished directors, and is an important trailblazer for women entering the industry. Her award winning films led her from indies and documentaries in New York to Los Angeles to follow her dreams. Her Hollywood career began with her cornerstone hit comedies "Valley Girl" and "Real Genius," introducing newbies Nick Cage and Val Kilmer who took the country by storm and put themselves and Ms. Coolidge on the map.

Her films have continued to introduce and develop new stars like James Gandolfini in "Angie," and Halle Berry in "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge." Halle won an Emmy, Golden Globe, SAG, and NAACP, and the film won five of 11 Emmys. Laura Dern and her mother, Diane Ladd, stared in "Rambling Rose" with the great Robert Duvall. Laura and Diane were each nominated for Academy Awards, and two Golden Globes, plus the film won three, of five, IFP SPIRIT AWARDS; Best Director for Ms. Coolidge, Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress for Ms. Ladd. In "If These Walls Could Talk, II" Coolidge created a ground breaking love story with Michelle Williams and Chloe Sevigny, and received her second DGA nomination. In "The Prince & Me," Julia Styles struggles with love when she falls for a Crown Prince, and in "American Girl: Chrissa Stands Strong," the wonderful young cast had girls in their first parts. This included Kaitlyn Dever, who quickly became a young star and Ms. Coolidge was nominated for her third DGA Award. Recently Ms. Coolidge directed an episode of "Sirens," a new series about a seaside village that discovers dangerous mermaids, airing this spring, "Madam Secretary" with Tia Leone, and "Angie Tribeca" produced by Steve and Nancy Carell, starring Rashida Jones, who got her first part from Coolidge.

Now Ms. Coolidge is in post on "Music, War & Love," a love story feature set in Poland and Germany, 1933 through WWII. Young lovers are separated when Nazis drag Rachel, a violinist, played by Adelaide Clemens, and family to Aushwitz. Robert, a catholic singer, played by Leo Suter, swears he will find her. Benno, a famous, playboy tenor, Stellan Skarsgard, courageously helps him find her. The catastrophic disintegration of the cities and culture shows ways the war damaged people and their lives that has never been seen before in film. In New York Robert and Rachel finally find each other and their hope and love rises again. “It’s a story about survival, resilience, compassion and courage.” says Coolidge. “It carries an important message for us about confronting prejudiced, angry authority and standing up for beliefs.”

Ms. Coolidge is interested in how media will change in the future. In 2012, she directed the first long form, internet horror series for Crackle, "The Unknown," with Dominic Monaghan and Tony Goldwyn. She is currently developing several feature scripts and a TV show with wide ranging historic and science fiction interest.

Coolidge is a Professor of Directing at Chapman University and contributes to the film community in LA, including serving on boards of the Academy of Motion Pictures, DGA, AFI, Women in Film, Rhode Island School of Design, and committees for NYU-Tish, UCLA and USC. Years committed to her union got her elected in 2001 as the first and only woman president of the Director’s Guild of America. She won their distinguished Robert Aldrich Award and continues to help the guild. She won the WIF Crystal Award, and many others. She is married to award winning Production Designer James Spencer, they have one son and raises horses.

9:30pm "The Big Lebowski"

“The Coen brothers based the ‘The Dude,’ played by Jeff Bridges in ‘The Big Lebowski,’ on a movie producer and distributor named Jeff Dowd, who is tall, large, shaggy and aboil with enthusiasm. Dowd is much more successful than Lebowski. Jeff Dowd has played an important role in the Coens’ careers as indie filmmakers, but no less a creature of the moment. Both dudes depend on improvisation and inspiration...” — Roger Ebert

Jeff “The Dude” Dowd is a Venice Beach-based writer, producer, producer’s representative and a nationally recognized authority on film, from script to marketing, distribution and exhibition. Dowd helped Robert Redford start Sundance Institute and the Sundance Film Festival.

Jeff is a well-known activist with an illustrious history fighting against racism and ill-conceived wars (the Seattle Seven), fighting for human rights, the environment and economic justice, and being instrumental in political campaigns and grassroots organizations. He works closely with PeaceJam founders Dawn Engle and Ivan Suvanjieff and 17 Nobel laureates including the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. PeaceJam has helped over one million kids at severe risk save their own lives and find their purpose and path. (Mentoring works!)

Dowd’s stepfather, Paul Sweezy, was a world-renowned economic historian. (His colleague Albert Einstein thought Paul was one of the most important intellectuals of the 20th century.) Jeff’s father, Doug Dowd, was 97 years old when he passed recently. According to Howard Zinn, “Douglas Dowd is our most reliable economic historian.” In fact, Bernie Sanders used “the casino economy” term and more from Doug Dowd. Through osmosis alone, Jeff Dowd knows a wee bit about the U.S. and world economy.

In 2011, Dowd was the subject of an 18-minute documentary short directed by Jeff Feuerzeig and broadcast on the USA Network as part of its “Character” series.


12pm "Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World"

Pura Fé, whose name means “Pure Faith,” was born in New York City and is an heir to the Tuscarora Indian Nation. She is an artist, an activist and much more. Her musical journey—running the gamut from folk to mainstream through an artful use of the blues—reflects the concerns of an artist who grew up in the Motown era, while citing Buffy Sainte-Marie, Charley Patton and Joni Mitchell as her true mentors. And, more widely, “traditional music from all over the world, wherever the spirit is connected to our roots.”

Pura Fé has studied and performed with the American Ballet Theatre Company, and has been in several Broadway musicals and TV commercials. She has sung for the Mercer Ellington Orchestra, for countless jazz, R&B and rock bands and has stamped her distinct vocals on many recordings, demos, jingles, music videos and movie soundtracks and trailers throughout her career. She is a founding member of the internationally renowned Native American women’s a capella trio, Ulali, and is recognized for creating a new genre, bringing Native contemporary music to the forefront of the mainstream music industry.

Pura Fé won a Nammy (Native American Music Award) for best female artist for “Follow Your Heart’s Desire.” She also won an L’académie Charles-Cros Award (French Grammy) for best world album for “Tuscarora Nation Blues.”

Alfonso Maiorana is co-director and director of photography on “Rumble.” Based in Montreal, Alfonso’s DP experience on Hollywood films, independent features, MOWs (movies-of-the-week) and television series brings a distinctive look and feel to the films he shoots. 

His directing credits include “The Big World,” which premiered at the Montreal International Film Festival. Passionate about music history and inspired by filmmakers like Jarmusch, Truffaut and Coppola, Maiorana’s combination of visual style and storytelling come together in “Rumble.”

“A prodigious pianist” (Chicago Tribune) recognized for his “singing tone” (New York Times), and someone who “likes to shake it up” (Chicago Tribune), George Lepauw is an artist and cultural activist who uses music and the arts to inspire and bring people together, following upon Beethoven's idea of "brotherhood". Named Chicagoan of the Year (2012) for Classical Music (Chicago Tribune), George represents the ideal 21st century musician, intensely focused on his art and wholly engaged with the world. In 2009 he had the honor of giving the World Premiere performance of a newly-discovered long-lost piano trio of Beethoven’s to great acclaim, which was followed by a highly-praised first recording. 

In addition to his performance career, George is the Founder of the International Beethoven Project (IBP), a non-profit organization focused on innovation in the arts with which he has organized multi-disciplinary festivals, special events, educational programs, and annual “Beethoven Birthday Bashes”. From 2016 to 2018, George was also Executive Director of the Chicago International Movies & Music Festival (CIMMfest), which allowed him to deepen his passion for film, an artform he has occasionally participated in as a producer, consultant, and musician for over a decade. 

George, who grew up in France in a musical family, began piano studies at the age of three in Paris with Aïda Barenboim (mother of pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim), and furthered his studies with Brigitte Engerer, Vladimir Krainev, Rena Shereshevskaya, Ursula Oppens, and Earl Wild, among others. He has degrees from Georgetown University (Literature and Film Studies, and History), and from Northwestern University (Piano Performance). George is a frequent speaker and guest teacher at universities and “ideas festivals” as well as on radio and television. He recently recorded Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, and hosts a podcast on the arts, Through The Stage Door. Visit for more information.

Rita Coburn Whack is the award winning Co-Director/Co-Producer of the first feature documentary on Maya Angelou, "Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise," which just won a Peabody Award. An award winning multi-media writer, director, and producer, Rita’s television work earned 3 Emmys for documentaries "Curators of Culture," "Remembering 47th Street," and "African Roots American Soil." 

Rita’s work has also been featured on C-Span and The History Channel. Rita is the owner of RCW Media Productions, Inc., a multi-media production company.

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