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Ebertfest Film Festival Over the Years

In honor of Ebertfest's 25th anniversary this year, we have compiled excerpts from some of the most memorable screenings at our film festival over the years. Click on each bolded title and you will be directed to the full article. And if you have any special memories of Ebertfest between 1999 and 2023, please send them to us at Thank you, and See You At The Movies! Chaz Ebert

Ebertfest Flashback: Donald O’Connor on “Singin’ in the Rain”

I didn’t learn any new steps until I went into movies. There was a picture called “Sing, You Sinners,” and the director wanted me to do a little dance. So I did what I did on the stage in the act, just a quick little dance, and they left that in. It’s a great thrill to be able to have autonomy and move the camera and everything. It’s thrilling enough when you’re old, but when you’re young, it’s a little boy’s dream come true. But I was in vaudeville, that’s it. Vaudeville was great. This theater was always a fantastic place to work. There were my two brothers, my niece Patsy and myself. She quit and she didn’t want to dance anymore, so we cut the act down. […] I think I might’ve met the Marx Brothers here in the 30s. They have all the dressing rooms downstairs.

Ebertfest Opens with Emotional Screening of Steve James' "Life Itself"

Chaz Ebert, Steve James, and Roger's lifelong friend, sportswriter Bill Nack, talked about the film after the screening. Nack said Roger would have loved it as a journalist because it was sad, happy, and joyful. James said that even though Roger was the biggest and most significant supporter of "Hoop Dreams," he did not know him well until they made the film together. "I always thought there was a firewall between filmmakers and critics until I read the memoir. And it served the film better that he was not a close friend. It allowed me to be freer. He wanted a candid portrait." No one knew how ill Roger was when they began filming. "The original goal was to show he was just as vibrant and active as ever." Instead, it turned out to be the story of his "sense of humor, stubbornness, generosity, and courage" in his life and in facing death as well.

Ebertfest to Welcome Jason Segel, Chazz Palminteri and More

The seventeenth edition of Ebertfest, a production of the University of Illinois, College of Media, begins this Wednesday, April 15, and in addition to reflecting on the journey of the festival with Roger all those many years ago, I am looking forward to all the incredible films we will be showing and am especially excited to greet the filmmakers, students, critics, industry giants and Ebertfest audiences at the Virginia Theatre in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. This festival has gained the reputation as being one of the friendliest, and some of the audience members have actually met, fallen in love, married and had children over the course of the festival years. So you never know what to expect here in addition to the films!

Leonard Maltin on Ebertfest 2015

In closing, Maltin hails Chaz Ebert as "the glue that holds this festival together. [She] makes everyone in the audience feel connected, through her warm and sincere introductions to each event. She also presents her special guests with a Golden Thumb award, actually cast from her late husband’s famous finger by the same company that manufactures the Academy Awards. It’s just one more way of keeping Roger Ebert a living presence at this film lovers’ festival."

Ebertfest 2016: An Interview with Guillermo del Toro

Backstage at the Virginia Theatre, I asked del Toro if he changed as a director over the course of his career. “You change and you never change,” he said. “Everything we do comes from an initial emptiness we feel as kids—we are born and experience an enormous void, and the horror and pain and cracks in our structure come from that emptiness. You’re not truly healed until later in life, as you heal through your stories, and you’re constantly drawn to the same motifs.” Del Toro told me he felt profoundly incomplete and empty ever since his childhood, “experiencing an enormous void.” Creating stories, making movies was the only way he knew to heal that chasm within himself.

Ebertfest 2016: An Interview with Legendary Script Supervisor Angela Allen

The “African Queen” and “Beat the Devil” director John Huston once said Allen had the uncanny ability to read a script and predict exactly the running time of the finished film. In a time before the playback machine and Polaroid cameras, script supervisors (they called them “continuity girls” in England) served as the trove of information that kept films on track and on budget. Allen said she kept track of everything from the actors’ wardrobes to camera angles. They only paid her 15 shillings a week. Her organization and copious notes saved directors from countless expensive reshoots.

Ebertfest 2016: "Disturbing the Peace" Wins First Ebert Humanitarian Award

Friday's first screening marked a historic event in the 18 years of Ebertfest: the first presentation of the Ebert Humanitarian Award, a recognition for films that exemplify humanity and empathy. Directors Stephen Apkon & Andrew Young received it for "Disturbing the Peace," which made its Special  Premiere at Ebertfest. It's about the horror of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict we have all heard about, but may have never seen expressed beyond our homeland media, nor shown with images of people finding love for the other side in spite of their trauma. With its soaring examples of the type of peace that could heal so many, it sets a high precedent for the fest's new humanitarian award.

Ebertfest 2017, Day 3: A Special Short, the World's Greatest Actress and More

Although her on-screen persona can come across as cool and resoundingly unsentimental, Huppert in person is an absolute delight and charmed the entire crowd as she discussed her career. Regarding “Elle,” she praised Verhoeven as someone that she always wanted to work with (“I could have been Robocop or a Starship Trooper!”) and revealed that she doesn’t overly prepare for her roles because for her, “moviemaking is always about the present time.” From there, the conversation expanded to encompass her entire career and covered topics such as “Rosebud,” the weird 1975 terrorism thriller from Otto Preminger that was one of her very first major films, the infamous production and reception of “Heaven’s Gate” (which she described as “an expensive dream”), working with filmmakers like Michael Haneke and the late Claude Chabrol and even touched on how impressed she was with the trained cat that provides some of the more memorable moments in “Elle.”

Ebertfest 2017, Day 4: Being Human is Hard

“Being human is hard,” says Norman Lear. “You heard it here first.” Profundity followed by comedy, which seems to be how Lear has lived 93 years of life. Although perhaps not always in that order. Adapting from his biography, “Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You,” directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady have made something truly remarkable. It’s a documentary that isn’t bland or sycophantic—it doesn’t sheepishly contribute to mindless mythologizing. Turning the myth to man, Ewing and Grady craft a well-researched primer for those interested in learning about the person who created hit shows like “All in the Family,” “Good Times,” “Maude,” “The Jeffersons” and countless more. More is the operative word here. Lear has made the most of existing for nearly a century on this Earth. When he longer wanted to be a prodigious Hollywood show-runner and writer, Lear went into activism and philanthropy. After that he found himself as an older father. The show continues.

Ebertfest 2018: Ten Things I Learned from Kogonada About Columbus

Kogonada’s directorial feature debut, “Columbus,” started day three of the 20th annual Roger Ebert Film Festival at the Virginia Theatre. The filmmaker introduced the film on stage just before it began, but kept it short and sweet. In the post-screening Q&A panel hosted by Matt Fagerholm and Nate Kohn, Kogonada and his producers offered detailed answers to every question presented. The writer/director was as relaxed, calm and thoughtful as the film itself.

Ebertfest 2018, Days 4 & 5: Daughters of the Dust, The Big Lebowski, 13th and More

One of the most rapturous ovations I’ve seen in the six years I’ve been attending Ebertfest was received by Ava DuVernay, the celebrated director who flew to Champaign, Illinois, amidst a busy schedule, in order to attend the Saturday morning screening of her Oscar-nominated 2016 documentary, “13th.” I immediately rose to my feet when she appeared on the stage, not just because her film is a towering achievement but because its call to action is overwhelming in its potency. DuVernay’s film pinpoints the 13th Amendment’s loophole approving slavery “as a punishment for crime,” and uses it as her jumping off point for a scathing indictment of the U.S. prison system. She explores how the “war on drugs” propelled by Nixon and enforced by Reagan targeted African-American communities, sending the vast majority of prisoners to jail without a fair trial.

Ebertfest 2019, Day 3: Sebastian, Cold War, Cane River, A Year of the Quiet Sun, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion

After the screening, the festival paid tribute to the film and Wilson by having both Heavenly Wilson, Scott’s wife and a familiar face to regular attendees, and co-star Maja Komorowska, who flew in from Poland and was accompanied by her grandson, Jerzy Tyskiewicz, who served as her translator. Obviously, Q&A’s involving a translator can sometimes be tough, but between Tyskiewicz’s charm and Komorowska’s delightful personality—the kind that needs no translation—it proved to be a relatively smooth experience. (It didn’t hurt that people struggling with translations was a running joke in the film itself.) Between the two of them and Heavenly, who teared up during her introduction following a montage of clips from throughout Scott’s career, and then delighted the audiences with a number of anecdotes about making the film in Poland, it proved to be a lively, and touching tribute to Wilson, whose spirit will no doubt continue to bless Ebertfest for years to come.

Ebertfest 2022 Recap: A Golden Homecoming

Starting off this year’s opening night on April 20th was a hauntingly beautiful performance from Israeli-born singer/songwriter Eef Barzelay (a.k.a. Clem Snide), whose song entitled “Roger Ebert” premiered on his 2020 folk album, Beyond Forever Just Beyond (you can view it here). Tracy Sulkin, Dean of the College of Media who is celebrating her twentieth anniversary at the University of Illinois, spoke prior to the night’s screening, along with Ebertfest producer, host and co-founder Chaz Ebert and festival director Nate Kohn. Questlove’s Oscar-winning documentary “Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)”, which chronicles the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, was followed by a rousing performance from jazz vocalist Tammy McCann and the soulful band, Ther’Up.Y, fronted by Aplustrodamus (Aaron Wilson). The group surprised Chaz by performing the song she wrote, “I Remember People,” which was originally sung by Rashada Dawan and the Chicago Soul Spectacular.

Ebertfest 2023 Recap: A Photo Journal

"Derek DelGaudio's In & Of Itself," which was directed by the legendary Frank Oz, received its very first screening in a packed theater since its premiere at SXSW in 2020 was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Based on DelGaudio and Oz's acclaimed stage show of the same name, the film explores the illusory nature of identity through the ingenious craft and personal journey of its titular storyteller and conceptual magician. Director Oz said that DelGaudio should be considered a Co-Director. Executive producer Stephen Colbert recorded a taped intro especially for this screening, while DelGaudio and Oz joined Literary Editor Matt Fagerholm onstage for the post-film Q&A. Producers Vanessa Lauren and Jake Friedman were also in attendance and received the festival's coveted award of the Golden Thumb. 

and of course...

Tilda Swinton Leads a Conga Line in Celebration of Roger in 2013

Chaz Ebert

Chaz is the CEO of several Ebert enterprises, including the President of The Ebert Company Ltd, and of Ebert Digital LLC, Publisher of, President of Ebert Productions and Chairman of the Board of The Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation, and Co-Founder and Producer of Ebertfest, the film festival now in its 24th year.

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