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Ebertfest 2023: Festival Closes with Guests Lawrence Bender, Mykelti Williamson, Michael Barker and More!



"Club Alli" screens at 9am on Saturday, April 22nd, in a Double Short Feature with "Team Dream" at the Virginia Theatre, as part of Ebertfest 2023. Below is a synopsis of the film, followed by the bios of each guest scheduled to attend the screening.

Only months after the US COVID lockdown began in 2020, the Turner Brothers were selected to be a part of the inaugural Beats By Dre Black Future Creator Program where they were tasked to produce a short film that captured the state of Black America in this extraordinarily challenging moment in history. 

Further, they had to complete this project while following the most stringent of COVID safety guidelines. The final result is the award-winning short "Club Alli", a sci-fi drama that creatively depicts the socio-economic divide that exists in America.


JULIEN AND JUSTEN TURNER, writer/directors

Filmmaking brothers Julien and Justen Turner are award-winning writers and directors who have made their mark as urban storytellers, most recently being selected as part of the Forbes 30 Under 30 Class of 2022 in the Hollywood and Entertainment category. In 2022, their Nike x Social Status “Free Lunch” comedic short also garnered them a Webby People’s Voice Award for Best Video Campaign. 

In 2016, the then teenage Turner Brothers formally started their own production company, Dreadhead Films, and soon thereafter found themselves in the national spotlight after being recognized as the youngest filmmakers commissioned to do a short film for the "Sesame Street" tv series in 2017. More of their story can be found in their recently released TEDx Talk entitled, “Using Filmmaking to find your Superhuman Gene” and at

MAX LIBMAN, founder of CU International Film Festival

Max Libman, a high school junior at Academy High in Champaign, has watched the world through a camera lens ever since he can remember. Seeing the power of film, Max decided to combine his love for movies and desire for community action to launch CU International Film Festival (CUIFF), with the mission to provide a platform for the next generation of filmmakers to share their stories. 

CUIFF’s inaugural festival debuted in October 2022 at the Spurlock Museum of World Cultures to a crowded theater, showcasing eight short films from around the world that entertain, educate, and elevate. As founder and director of CUIFF, Max has been grateful to see this vision become a reality, and plans are underway for next year’s festival. To learn more about CUIFF, visit


Dr. Douglas A. Williams is a past Fulbright scholar in Africa and National Park Service – DSC landscape architect. He studied abroad in the Caribbean and Europe, while completing his B.S. in horticulture at the University of Illinois (UIUC). In addition, he studied abroad in Japan, before finishing his M.L.A. at Cornell University. 

He earned a Ph.D. in landscape architecture from UIUC, where he was also a postdoctoral research associate in the College of Applied Health Sciences. Williams joined the distinguished list of Harvard University, Dumbarton Oak research awardees and lectures at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Recently, this Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences alumnus became a 2023-2024 Landscape Architecture Foundation Fellow for Innovation and Leadership. 


"Team Dream" screens at 9am on Saturday, April 22nd, in a Double Short Feature with "Club Alli" at the Virginia Theatre, as part of Ebertfest 2023. Below is an excerpt from an interview with the film's director Luchina Fisher penned by Rebecca Martin Fagerholm, followed by the bios of each guest scheduled to attend the screening.

“Team Dream” is about two women: Ann Smith, who is in her 80s, and Madeline Murphy Rabb, who is in her 70s. After they had retired from their careers, both women decided to take up competitive swimming. Their coach is Derrick Milligan, founder of the Chicago-based organization Team Dream, an international community of women of color who connect via shared experiences of training and competing in multi-sport events including triathlons, marathons, road races, open water swimming, cycling, and adventure racing. “Team Dream” is not just a sports movie, it also dives deep into issues of social justice. We learn a lot about the history of Black people not having access to bodies of water where they could learn the basic skill of learning to swim. Luchina Fisher shows that this goes all the way back to slavery, and before slavery, how African people lived in the water and made a living from what they found there.

Click here to read the full interview.



Luchina Fisher is an award-winning director, writer, and producer whose work is at the intersection of race, gender and identity. Her feature directorial debut "Mama Gloria" is a 2022 GLAAD Media Award nominee, won numerous festival jury awards, and made its broadcast debut on World channel and PBS. Her recent short documentary "Team Dream" won the Audience Choice Award for Best Short Film at Chicago International Film Festival and Best Documentary at the Pan African and TIDE film festivals and just aired on BET. Her latest short documentary "The Dads", about five dads of trans kids on a weekend fishing trip, premiered at SXSW and is currently on the festival circuit. 


Madeline Murphy Rabb is the founder and president of Murphy Rabb, Inc., an art advisory business in Chicago. For 35 years, she curated important African American art collections for private clients across the country as well as corporate art collections for hospitals, banks, financial management companies, and apartment buildings such as Brown Capital Management, the John H. Stroger Jr., Hospital of Cook County, the Northern Trust Chicago South Financial Center, Cityfront Place, Ariel Investments, Capri Capital Advisors, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Evanston Hospital, and The Chicago Park District among many others.

She has a more than 45-year career in the arts as a painter and printmaker, arts administrator, art appraiser, personal art curator, curatorial activist, and arts patron. Madeline has been a collector of art created by Black American artists all her life. 



"Fresh" screens at 10:30am on Saturday, April 22nd, at the Virginia Theatre, as part of Ebertfest 2023. Below is an excerpt from the review of the film penned by Roger Ebert, followed by the bios of each guest scheduled to attend the screening.

The movie is well constructed; no event is unmotivated, and Yakin's screenplay establishes all of the emotional reasons, too, so that nothing is unexplained, even what seems at first like the gratuitous death of a dog. Sudden, violent death is a fact of life in America today. Guns have made our cities unsafe for children. What "Fresh" does is bring a new perspective to those facts, in the form of both drama and thriller. This is not an action film, not a clever, superficial thriller, but a story of depth and power, in which the dangerous streets are seen through the eyes of a 12-year-old who reacts with the objectivity he has learned from chess, and the anger taught to him by his life.

Click here to read the full review.



Lawrence Bender is a film producer who has a career that spans three decades of producing highly successful films with worldwide box office cum of over a billion dollars. His films to date, including such hits as "Inglorious Bastards", "Pulp Fiction" and "Good Will Hunting", have been honored with 36 Academy Award nominations, including three for Best Picture, and have won 9. His film "An Inconvenient Truth", which raised unprecedented awareness about climate change, won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Bender just wrapped his next movie, "Roll", which filmed in Tunisia. In 2021, Bender produced "The Harder They Fall" starring Idris Elba, Regina King, Jonathan Majors, LaKeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz and Delroy Lindo.


Chaz Ebert is the CEO of Ebert Digital LLC, which publishes the movie review site, She produces television and movies, and co-founded the Ebertfest Film Festival, now in its 22nd year, with her late husband, Pulitzer-prize winner, Roger Ebert. She awards The Golden Thumb and Ebert Humanitarian Awards at Ebertfest, and at the Toronto and Chicago International Film Festivals to filmmakers who exhibit an unusually compassionate view of the world.

As president of the Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation her civic passions include programs to help break the glass ceiling for women and people of color, and to provide education and arts for women, children and families.  She also supports programs with a global interest in encouraging empathy, kindness, compassion and forgiveness. 


Brian Tallerico, the Managing Editor of, has covered television, film, video games, Blu-ray/DVD, interviews, and entertainment news for two decades online, on radio, and in print.

In addition, he is a TV writer for, a contributor at The Playlist, and freelancer for multiple outlets, including The New York Times, Rolling Stone, and GQ. 

He also serves as President of the Chicago Film Critics Association, co-produces the Chicago Critics Film Festival every May, and is a regular guest on radio stations and podcasts. 

You can follow him on Twitter @Brian_Tallerico. Read his answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here.


"Wings of Desire" screens at 2:30pm on Saturday, April 22nd, at the Virginia Theatre, as part of Ebertfest 2023. Below is an excerpt from the review of the film penned by Roger Ebert, followed by the bios of each guest scheduled to attend the screening.

The film evokes a mood of reverie, elegy and meditation. It doesn’t rush headlong into plot, but has the patience of its angels. It suggests what it would be like to see everything but not participate in it. We follow two angels: Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander). They listen to the thoughts of an old Holocaust victim, and of parents worried about their son, and of the passengers on trams and the people in the streets; it’s like turning the dial and hearing snatches of many radio programs. They make notes about the hooker who hopes to earn enough money to go south, and the circus aerialist who fears that she will fall, because it is the night of the full moon.

You’re seduced into the spell of this movie, made in 1987 by Wenders, who collaborated on the screenplay with the German playwright Peter Handke. It moves slowly, but you don’t grow impatient, because there is no plot to speak of, and so you don’t fret that it should move to its next predictable stage. It is about being, not doing. And then it falls into the world of doing, when the angel Damiel decides that he must become human.

Click here to read the full review.


MICHAEL BARKER, co-president and co-founder of Sony Pictures Classics

As Co-President and Co-Founder of Sony Pictures Classics, which celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2022, Michael Barker (with Tom Bernard) has distributed (and often produced) some of the finest independent movies. Previously he was an executive at United Artists (1980-1983) and went on to co-found Orion Classics (1983-1991) and Sony Pictures Classics.

Over the span of his career, Barker’s films have received 186 Academy Award® nominations, including several for Best Picture: "The Father"; "Call Me By Your Name"; "Whiplash"; "Amour"; "Midnight in Paris"; "An Education"; "Capote"; "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", recognized as the highest grossing foreign film of all time in North America; and "Howard's End". 



Matt Zoller Seitz is the Editor at Large of He is also the TV critic for New York Magazine and, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism. His writing on film and television has appeared in The New York Times,, The New Republic and Sight and Sound. Seitz is the founder and original editor of the influential film blog The House Next Door, now a part of Slant Magazine, and the co-founder and original editor of Press Play, an IndieWire blog of film and TV criticism and video essays.

A Brooklyn-based writer and filmmaker, Seitz has written, narrated, edited or produced over a hundred hours’ worth of video essays about cinema history and style for The Museum of the Moving Image, and Vulture, among other outlets. 


"Forrest Gump" screens at 8pm on Saturday, April 22nd, at the Virginia Theatre, as part of Ebertfest 2023. Below is an excerpt from the review of the film penned by Roger Ebert, followed by a bio of the guest scheduled to attend the screening.

I've never met anyone like Forrest Gump in a movie before, and for that matter I've never seen a movie quite like "Forrest Gump." Any attempt to describe him will risk making the movie seem more conventional than it is, but let me try. It's a comedy, I guess. Or maybe a drama. Or a dream.

The screenplay by Eric Roth has the complexity of modern fiction, not the formulas of modern movies. Its hero, played by Tom Hanks, is a thoroughly decent man with an IQ of 75, who manages between the 1950s and the 1980s to become involved in every major event in American history. And he survives them all with only honesty and niceness as his shields.

Click here to read the full review.



Versatile, instantly funny, terrifying, heart-breaking, unforgettable... these are just a few of the phrases used by film and theater critics when describing the characters created by Actor-Director Mykelti Williamson. Mykelti, has quietly built a reputation in Hollywood as one of the most consistently proven actors and directors in the business, delivering stirring and honest performances that capture audiences. 

Williamson’s television and stage credits both as an Actor and Director include August Wilson's Award-winning Broadway revival of "Fences", "The Fugitive", "Boomtown", "24", "Justified", "Chicago Med", "FBI" & "Chicago PD".  His film Credits include "Heat", "Con Air", "Ali", "Lucky Number Slevin", "The 24th", "Clean" and the universally beloved role of Bubba Blue in the Oscar winning film, "Forrest Gump".  


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