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Ebertfest: Synecdoche, Champaign-Urbana

Samantha Morton and Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Synecdoche, New York."

Charlie Kaufman, the writer and director of "Synecdoche, New York" (2008), my choice for the best film of the decade, will appear after the screening of his masterpiece at Ebertfest 2010. The 12th annual festival will be held April 21-25 at the landmark 1,600-seat Virginia Theater in Champaign-Urbana, and for the first time ever, all festival Q&A sessions and panel discussions will be streamed live on the Internet.

Presented by the College of Media of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the festival features a dozen screenings, along with lectures, guest appearances and special events. I program, produce and host the event, along with my wife Chaz. Thanks to my computer-generated voice, I plan to play a larger role onstage this year.

Kaufman is generally considered the most creative screenwriter of his generation, with such credits as "Being John Malkovich" and "Adaptation." He is quite reasonably not known for being pleased with questions like, "What does your film mean?" But if audience members can be more creative there's no telling what they'll find out.

Perhaps at the other end of the fame scale, we'll have "Vincent: A Life in Color" (2008), Jennifer Burns' lovely documentary about Vincent P. Falk, the man in the coats of many colors who is a regular outside the State Street windows of WLS-Channel 7. Falk, who often waves his coats to tourist boats passing under bridges on the Chicago River, will be a festival guest.

Walter Murch, the Academy Award-winning sound and film editor, will appear after our giant-screen presentation of a newly restored print of Francis Ford Coppola's great "Apocalypse Now" (1979). At the other end of the budget scale, we'll honor "Munyurangabo," a brilliant feature filmed in Rwanda, and its director, the Arkansas-born Lee Isaac Chung, and writer Samuel Gray Anderson.

Our free Saturday morning family matinee will showcase the inspired film "I Capture the Castle" (2003), based on the beloved novel by Dodie Smith. It tells the story of a real family living in a real castle with real problems. Like all of our family films, it's definitely not for children only.

In an opening-night program of contrasts, we'll be screening the only surviving 70mm print of "Pink Floyd: The Wall" (1982), the rock opera by Roger Waters. It's a loan from the British Film Institute. Directed by Alan Parker, it combines live action and animation in a surrealistic portrait of a man in despair. We'll follow that with surrealism in a decidedly lower key: Roy Andersson's "You, the Living" (2007), from the Swedish director of the legendary "Songs From The Second Floor" (2002). Appearing in person will be actress Jessika Lundberg, and production manager and assistant director Johan Carlsson, the author of a book about Roy Andersson.

Michael Tolkin, author of the script and novel that inspired Robert Altman's "The Player" (1992), will appear after the screening of a film he wrote and directed, "The New Age" (1994), with Judy Davis and Peter Weller. I thought it was a great film at the time, and find its story of a well-off couple facing financial ruin to be eerily relevant.

Barbet Schroeder, the acclaimed French director whose career began by acting in early New Wave films, will appear with his "Barfly" (I987). It's based on the novel by the cult legend Charles Bukowski, and stars Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway. I spent an unforgettable day on the set, when Rourke, while acting, bashed through a door with his fist, and Schroeder had to break the news to him that he was off-camera at that moment.

One of the greatest performances of 2009 was by Michelle Monaghan in the title role of "Trucker." She played a fiercely independent owner-operator of a big highway rig, forced to look after the son she is estranged from. Both the actress and the film's writer-director James Mottern will be with us.

We also will show Yojiro Takita's brilliant Oscar-winning film "Departures" (2008), which few people had seen when it won best foreign film last year, and not many more have seen since. I fell in love with its story of an out-of-work classical musician who finds himself employed in the ceremonial preparation of corpses. Takita will attend.

This will be the 10th year the famed Alloy Orchestra of Cambridge, Mass., will be in the orchestra pit to accompany a silent classic, this year the Russian "Man With a Movie Camera" (1929). The score will, as always, be of their own composition.

The festival traditionally closes on Sunday afternoon with a film followed by a live musical performance, and do we have a discovery this year! We'll show Greg Kohs' documentary "Song Sung Blue" (2008), about a Milwaukee husband and wife duo named Lightning and Thunder, whose tributes to Neil Diamond and Patsy Cline won large, loyal audiences. Then "Thunder," Claire Sardina, will perform, and trust me on this: She's dynamite.

All passes are sold out, but individual tickets go on sale April 5 at the Virginia box office. Festival director Nate Kohn and assistant director Mary Susan Britt assure me that since all passholders don't attend every film, we have never, ever failed to find seats for everyone in the Rush Line.

Info, times and dates are at:

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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