We are devastated to announce the death of Gilbert Gottfried who was slated to be with us next week at Ebertfest. We are dedicating the Festival to him and will show the documentary about his life. My heart and condolences go out to his wife Dara and their children, and to his sister and extended family. - Chaz Ebert
Here are the guests scheduled to attend Ebertfest 2022, either in person, or by satellite, starting next Wednesday, April 20th, through Saturday, April 23rd, at the Virginia Theatre in Champaign. Below they are listed in order of appearance.
Also be sure to enjoy this video clip of Ebertfest put together for us by one of our sponsors, Fandor/Cinedigm.
EEF BARZELAY, a.k.a Clem Snide
The last ten years have been a rollercoaster of deep despair and amazing opportunities that somehow present themselves at the last possible second,” says Eef Barzelay. “During that time, the band bottomed out, I lost my house, and I had to declare bankruptcy. The only way to survive was to try to transcend myself, to find some kind of deeper, spiritual relationship with life. Once I committed to that, all these little miracles started happening.”
"Forever Just Beyond," Barzelay’s stunning new album under the Clem Snide moniker, may just be the most miraculous of them all. Produced by Scott Avett, the record is a work of exquisite beauty and profound questioning, a reckoning with faith and reality that rushes headlong into the unknown and the unknowable. The songs here grapple with hope and depression, identity and perception, God and the afterlife, humanizing thorny existential issues and delivering them with the intimate, understated air of a late-night conversation between old friends. Avett’s production is similarly warm and inviting, and the careful, spacious arrangement of gentle guitars and spare percussion carves a wide path for Barzelay’s insightful lyrics and idiosyncratic delivery.
Named for a William S. Borroughs character, Clem Snide first emerged from Boston as a three-piece in the early 1990’s, and the group would go on to become a cult and critical favorite, picking up high profile fans from Bon Iver to Ben Folds over the course of three decades and more than a dozen studio albums. NPR highlighted the Israeli-born Barzelay as “the most underrated songwriter in the business today, with a sneakily firm grasp on poignancy and humor,” while Rolling Stone hailed his songwriting as “soulful and incisive,” and The New Yorker praised his music’s “soothing melodies and candid wit.”
TAMMY McCANN, opening night performer
Named the Chicago Tribune’s 2020 person of the Year in Jazz, Tammy McCann is an internationally recognized Jazz Vocalist and is currently Artist in Residence for the Music Institute of Chicago. Her powerful, sultry, and emotionally charged voice paints pictures and tells stories by merging Classical vocal technique and Gospel esthetic with Jazz to create a sound that is completely her own. Chicago Tribune’s Arts Critic, Howard Reich says McCann has, “A voice that soars in all registers, at all tempos, on all occasions... a voice that inspires wonder!” Alyce Claerbaut, President of Strayhorn Songs Publishing, Inc. and mentor to McCann says, “Tammy is a star with a one-of-a-kind voice.”
Tammy is a storyteller who draws emotion from and makes connections with here audiences world- wide. Her warm delivery allows her audience to go on the musical journey with her and her engaging personality imprints the memory of her performance on their hearts. Inside Jazz Magazine Music Critic, Nora McCarthy says “She came bearing natural gifts and with raw talent in hand, she stepped up to the mic and into the hearts of everyone in the room.” As an educator, Tammy believes singing is a part of every human community; bringing us together and helping us to interact with one another. There is a pedagogy to Jazz vocal instruction which requires an approach that can combine the "classroom and the bandstand" in a seamless way. Her teaching style meets the vocal student where they are and all instruction has a classical foundation with a focus on Jazz. All lessons help to develop a natural technique and allow the student to progress at their own pace. Through which the students gain the confidence they need to audition and perform.
Tammy McCann has performed with such luminaries Chicago’s own Ramsey Lewis & NEA Jazz Master Von Freeman, John Clayton, Branford Marsalis,Joe Locke, Charles McPherson, Dee Dee Bridgewater,Carmen Bradford and toured as a ‘Raelette’ with the great Ray Charles. McCann has thrilled audiences in festivals and clubs world- wide from Bangkok,Thailand to the Harrods Atticus in Greece. As well as the nation’s premier concert and Jazz venues, Carnegie Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center , Birdland, The Blue Note, Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola and Chicago's own Jazz Showcase. Cultural & Jazz Critic Stanley Crouch says, “Her pitch is superb…clear on the top and startling at the bottom, while all of the steps in between are polished with swing. " Her shows are not to be missed.
THER'UP.Y, opening night performer
Fronted by Aplustrodamus (Aaron Wilson) this is a band fondly known for being the House Band of Soul On Sunday-a show geared towards the arts of Live Music,Comedy,and Poetry. A highly skilled band with a plethora of amazingly talented musicians who can play and sound like every one. Ther'Up.Y isn't limited to a particular genre of music, playing Reggae, Gospel, Blues, Folk, Jazz, and Country. The unique spelling of the band's name came from an old saying the band-leader's grandma used to say when family and friends were looking for him. She would say, "he is, oh, there uppa yonder!" The phrase turned out "Ther'Up.Y" (pronounced Therapy) and the name resonated as a moniker for a band that aimed for a therapeutic music that can be enjoyed by all.
MICHAEL BARKER, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics
Barker is bringing "Phantom of the Open," a special Sneak Preview starring Mark Rylance and Sallie Hawkins based on a true story.
Michael Barker, Co-President and Co-Founder of Sony Pictures Classics, has (with Tom Bernard) distributed, and often produced, some of the finest independent movies over the past 30 years. Previously he was an executive at United Artists (1980-1983) and went on to co-found Orion Classics (1983-1991) and Sony Pictures Classics.
Barker’s films have received 159 Academy Award nominations and 36 wins, including five for Best Documentary Feature and 12 for Best Foreign Language Film and 23 Golden Globe Awards. Barker has collaborated with some of the world’s finest filmmakers including Woody Allen, Pedro Almodovar, Mike Leigh, Louis Malle and Zhang Yimou, all of whom he’s worked with on multiple occasions. In additional to his award-winning feature releases, he and his colleagues have also restored and theatrically reissued some of the great films of the past.
In recognition of his work, Barker has received many honors and awards. Most recently, he and Bernard were awarded the esteemed French Legion of Honor in acknowledgment for their contributions to French culture over the past 30 years.
CHUCK KOPLINSKI, critic and co-host of "Reel Talk with Chuck and Pam"
Though he had his first critical thoughts about film when he was 8 years old, Chuck Koplinski had to wait 20 years before putting his opinions in print. Having established himself with various independent newspapers in East Central Illinois, Chuck joined the Illinois Times in Springfield, where he has been writing since 1998.
Branching out into other media, he has been delivering weekly film reviews for the CBS affiliate WCIA and the FM radio station MIX 94.5 since 2005. Additionally he has been writing for the News-Gazette in Champaign, Il. since 2007.
PAM POWELL, critic and co-host of "Reel Talk with Chuck and Pam"
Starting in radio broadcasting on WKAN 1350 AM a decade ago, Pamela reviewed both mainstream blockbusters and independent films which lead to writing for the Chicago area newspaper, The Daily Journal, and the female filmmaker focused outlet FF2 Media. Pamela attends various film festivals each year such as Sundance and Toronto, covering standout films for these outlets as well as her newest outlets, WCIA and THE MIX 94.5 FM.
Appearing weekly on WCIA’s CI-Living and The Morning Show, and The Morning Show with Tim and Sarah on 94.5 FM, Pamela teams up with fellow critic Chuck Koplinski to share her opinion about the newest releases. Pamela also participates in panel discussions in the Chicago area including The Gene Siskel Film Center and organizes the Social Impact Film Series, a community based film screening program. Pamela is also a member of the Women Film Critics Circle, The Chicago Film Critics Association and a critic on Rotten Tomatoes.
MICHAEL PHILLIPS, film critic of the Chicago Tribune
Michael Phillips is the Chicago Tribune’s film critic. He’s the on-air host of “The Film Score,” a series of specials devoted to great movie music, syndicated nationally and heard on Classical WFMT-FM (98.7). Phillips is a regular guest on the long-running Chicago Public Radio podcast “Filmspotting” and a frequent contributor on “The Jam,” broadcast on WCIU-TV. From 2011-2017 he guest-hosted dozens of films on Turner Classic Movies. Before that, first opposite Richard Roeper and then A.O. Scott, he was co-host of 100 or so episodes of “At the Movies.”
He has been the film critic for the Twin Cities weekly City Pages and Minnesota Public Radio, and has served as drama critic for the Dallas Times-Herald, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Los Angeles Times and, prior to being appointed film critic in 2006, the Chicago Tribune. Phillips advises the U of I College of Media Roger Ebert Fellowship, and will teach this summer at the National Critics Institute in Waterford, Conn. He lives in Chicago with his wife, Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens, and their three children. He’s very happy to be back at Ebertfest.
KERRY RYAN, The Film Detective
Kerry is an enthusiastic leader in The Film Detective’s promotional efforts.
With a love of classic film and imaginative storytelling, Kerry works as the Marketing Manager of The Film Detective, helping to share the organization’s mission with the passionate online community of classic film lovers and collectors.
With interests ranging from 1930s Universal monster movies to the recent festival circuits, Kerry strives to instill a love of Hollywood’s Golden Age in today’s viewers as well as bring new voices in independent film to center stage.
KRYSTAL VANDER ARK, The Film Detective
A long time film lover, Krystal Vander Ark has worked in the film and streaming industry since the inception of her professional career. First as a designer, researcher, and creative, Krystal is now the organization’s Operations Director, leading the restoration process of archival films for The Film Detective.
Krystal enjoys learning more about film history every day and continuing to discover the wealth and depth of classic cinema. She is passionate about bringing film history and cinema to new audiences and most recently directed The Film Detective's new original series, Classic Films for Kids, geared towards igniting a love of the classics to a new generation.
Krystal Vander Ark and Kerry Ryan help lead The Film Detective’s mission of classic film restoration and preservation, bringing dozens of new, beautifully restored prints to an enthusiastic collector’s market each year. Krystal and Kerry have a love of sharing vintage and independent films, particularly rare, underrepresented prints, with a passionate global community of cinephiles. Krystal and Kerry are proud to be a part of Ebertfest, an event so dedicated to elevating films worthy of exploration with a community of filmmakers, professors, scholars, and audiences.
NEIL BERKELEY, director of "Gilbert"
Neil Berkeley is an Emmy-nominated filmmaker.
His first feature film, "Beauty Is Embarrassing", premiered at SXSW in 2012 and chronicles the life and times of the inspiring artist Wayne White.
The film won several Best Documentary Awards and was featured in PBS’ Independent Lens in January of 2013.
His second feature, "Harmontown", premiered at SXSW in 2014 and follows self-destructive TV writer, Dan Harmon, on an emotional, cross country journey of self discovery.
CHRIS KELLY, advisor at Fandor
Chris Kelly is an entrepreneur, attorney, and activist. A graduate of Harvard Law School (‘97), Kelly joined Facebook in 2005 as an early senior leader, serving as General Counsel, Vice President of Corporate Development, Chief Privacy Officer, and Head of Global Public Policy between 2005-2009. Kelly is a distinguished investor in the technology, media, and finance industries, whose portfolio has included Fandor, MoviePass, and rentLEVER.
With a passion for independent film, Kelly acted as CEO and is an Advisor of Fandor and is an executive producer of multiple acclaimed independent films, with credits including "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" (2011), "Olive" (2011) and "Once Upon a Time in Queens" (2013). Kelly is the co-owner of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings and has acted on the board of multiple philanthropic and political organizations, including the New Leaders Council.
AZAZEL JACOBS, director of "French Exit"
Previous to directing "French Exit" (2021, Sony Pictures Classics), Azazel Jacobs wrote/directed "The Lovers" for A24, starring Debra Winger and Tracy Letts, nominated for a 2018 Independent Spirit Award (screenplay). Before this, he directed the two seasons of the acclaimed SKY/HBO show, "Doll & Em" (2014-15), in addition to serving as a writer and producer.
His film "Terri" (ATO/Samual Goldwyn) premiered in competition at Sundance 2011 (recipient of the Golden Thumb at the 2011 Ebertfest!) and his award winning film "Momma’s Man" (Kino Lorber) quickly became one of the most lauded films of the year after premiering at Sundance 2008. Azazel is currently in post production on Fables, an animated children’s show for Bron Entertainment.
Joining Azazel Jacobs onstage will be Michael Barker (see "Phantom of the Open").
JASON DELANE LEE, star/executive producer of "Lifeline"
Jason Delane Lee is CO-CEO of the Lagralane Group – an award winning film finance and development company. Founded alongside his wife, Yvonne Huff Lee, in 2015, The Lagralane Group is committed to producing and creating personal and intimate films told through uncommon and unique perspectives. At Lagralane, Jason has Co-Executive Produced the 2018 Academy Award winning documentary, "Icarus". His producing credits also include the 2019 Berlinale world premiere and TIFF North American premiere "The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open"; the 2018 Sundance premieres "Night Comes On" and "This is Home"; the 2017 SXSW premieres "Served Like a Girl", "The Blood is at the Doorstep", and "Lucky", starring the late Harry Dean Stanton; the upcoming Lisa Cole short film, "Bienvenidos a Los Angeles"; and the upcoming Lisa Cortes documentary "The Empire of Ebony".
On screen he acted in and executive produced the indie film "Givers of Death (G.O.D.)", written and directed by Addison Henderson, distributed by Buffalo 8. As a filmmaker, Jason recently completed the short film "Lifeline", which he wrote, co-directed and starred in. He is a founding member of Los Angeles based Lower Depth Theatre; which produces intimate theater for LA's theater arts community. Jason and Yvonne currently live in Studio City, CA with their three children, Grace, Maya and Maximo.
YVONNE HUFF LEE, star/executive producer of "Lifeline" and executive producer of "Passing"
Yvonne (she/hers) is an actor and producer of Black and Filipina descent. She is inspired by the female experience and seeks to elevate both female-driven narratives and women’s perspectives. Fearless in her pursuit of authentic and original works, she is passionate about the power of storytelling to both entertain and foment social change.
On stage, she starred in "Safe Harbor" written by Tira Palmquist with Lower Depth Theatre, where she is an artistic associate and founding member. She was also in Lower Depth's critically acclaimed "Br’er Cotton" by Tearrance Arvelle Chisolm. For this role, she was nominated for 2019 NAACP Best Actress (Intimate Theatre).
On screen, she acted in and executive produced the indie film Givers of Death (G.O.D.), written and directed by Addison Henderson, distributed by Buffalo 8. She also starred alongside Harry Dean Stanton in his career final film "Lucky", distributed by Magnolia Pictures. Other producing credits include "This is Home", "Night Comes On", "The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open", Rebecca Hall’s "Passing", the upcoming Lisa Cole short film, "Bienvenidos a Los Angeles" and the upcoming Lisa Cortes feature documentary film, "The Empire of Ebony". Yvonne serves on the board of Array Alliance and Lower Depth Theatre and is co-founder of the Lagralane Group with her husband, Jason Delane Lee.
BRENDA ROBINSON, executive producer of "Passing"
Brenda Robinson is an entertainment attorney and producer with extensive experience in the film, television and music industries. As a dedicated philanthropist in the arts and entertainment community and advocate on behalf of creative artists, Brenda currently serves on the boards of Film Independent and The Representation Project. She is a proud board member of Cinema/Chicago and the Chicago International Film Festival and currently acts as legal counsel to the festival. Brenda is also currently the Board Chair of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.
Brenda was most recently a financier on the Academy Award-winning documentary "Icarus" as well as "Won't You Be My Neighbor" and "Step". She is an executive producer on numerous projects including "Passing", directed by Rebecca Hall and produced by Nina Yang Bongiovi and Forest Whitaker; "United Skates", alongside executive producer John Legend; "The Great American Lie" by director Jennifer Siebel Newsom; "Jump Shot: The Kenny Sailors Story", alongside executive producer Steph Curry, "The Empire of Ebony" directed by Lisa Cortes and produced by Roger Ross Williams and "Marian Anderson: The Whole World In Her Hands" directed by Rita Coburn for PBS’ American Masters series. Brenda is a member of The Recording Academy and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS).
ANNE MARIE ALLISON AND JENNA MILLY, co-writers of "Golden Arm"
This BFF writing duo focuses on feature comedies with strong lady leads. Their brand of funny comes in the form of powerful women who aren’t afraid to make fun of themselves. Ann Marie & Jenna wrote and executive produced the feature comedy "Golden Arm" starring Mary Holland and Betsy Sodaro. The film sits on Rotten Tomatoes coveted “100% Certified Fresh” list and is streaming on Amazon Prime and HBO. Their all-night caper comedy "It’s Wednesday Night" is set up at Netflix and their "Golden Girls"-esque comedy at Amazon Studios is out to cast with Joselyn Moorhouse at the helm to direct.
Their writing has been called “gender bending” and “anarchic, subtly hilarious” by the Wall Street Journal and got them on Austin Film Festival’s “25 Screenwriters to Watch” list for 2021. Ann Marie and Jenna are represented by Verve Agency, Zero Gravity Management and Linda Lichter at Lichter Grossman Nichols Adler Feldman & Clark.
BRIGID BRAKEFIELD, producer of "Golden Arm"
First time feature film investor. Long time feature film fan.
Producer, "Golden Arm."
The film, directed by Maureen Bharoocha centers on a tough lady trucker, who trains her wimpy best friend to compete in the National Ladies Arm Wrestling Championship.
"Golden Arm" won the Best Feature prize at the 2021 ReFrame Film Festival, and will receive the coveted Golden Thumb at Ebertfest 2022.
BETSY SODARO, star of "Golden Arm"
Betsy Sodaro is an actor and comedian from Colorado. Betsy is known for being on television in such shows as, Chuck Lorre's "Disjointed" on Netflix, Comedy Central's "Big Time in Hollywood FL", "Another Period" and "Drunk History", NBC's "Animal Practice", "Superstore" and "Brooklyn 99", ABC's "Dr. Ken" and "Speechless", and most recently in CBS's "Ghosts". She also has done voices on many animated shows such as "Bob's Burgers", "All Hail King Julien", "Tuca & Bertie", "Human Kind Of", "Glitch Techs", and "Big City Greens".
Betsy is also a regular on Fox's animated comedy "Duncanville" alongside Amy Poehler and Ty Burrell. On the feature side, Betsy has appeared in "Monsters University", "The To Do List", "Don't Worry He Won't Go Far on Foot", "Trolls World Tour", "An American Pickle", and "Hubie Halloween". She was recently in "Golden Arm" and will soon be seen in "Mother Mary".
OLIVIA STAMBOULIAH, star of "Golden Arm"
Olivia Stambouliah graduated with a Bachelor of Performance from the University of Western Sydney, Theatre Nepean. Shortly afterwards, she landed her first television role in Jan Chapman's "The Silence" directed by Cate Shortland. Olivia quickly established herself in major Australian television series including Channel Seven's "Packed to the Rafters", Penny Chapman's "My Place", John Edward's "Dangerous", Foxtel's "Crime Investigation Australia" and Ben Elton's sketch comedy "Ben Elton Live from Planet Earth".
Olivia's first leading film role in "My Sister and I" was mentored by Jane Campion and pre-selected for Cannes. Her following title role was April in the award-winning film "April in July" directed by Joel Pront. Olivia's major stage plays include highly successful seasons of Sydney Theatre Company's "Arms and the Man" with Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton as artistic directors, Griffin Theatre Company's "The Turquoise Elephant", Ensemble Theatre's "Frankenstein" and Sydney Festival's "Hakawati". Her acclaimed lead roles on stage include "References to Salvador Dali make me hot", "Medea", "Taming of the Shrew", "The Visit", "Stop Kiss", "The Europeans" and "Dropped". Olivia starred in the ABC comedy series "Soul Mates" streaming on NBCUniversal, “The Walking Dead” for AMC, the buddy comedy “Golden Arm” which was selected for SXSW, Austin. Olivia stars in Michael Bay’s new action thriller, “Ambulance”, alongside Jake Gyllenhaal, Yayha Abdul-Mateen and Eiza Gonzalez.
RAMIN BAHRANI, writer/director of "The White Tiger"
Academy Award® nominee Ramin Bahrani is the Iranian-American writer, director, and producer of "The White Tiger", for which he has earned Oscar®, BAFTA®, and WGA Award nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay. Based on the Man Booker Prize-winning novel by Aravind Adiga, the critically acclaimed Netflix feature film stars BAFTA nominee Adarsh Gourav, Rajkummar Rao, and Priyanka Chopra-Jonas, and is executive produced by Chopra and Ava DuVernay.
Bahrani is the internationally renowned, award-winning writer/director/producer of critically lauded films such as "Man Push Cart", "Chop Shop", "Goodbye Solo", "At Any Price", and "99 Homes". Early in his career, legendary film critic Roger Ebert proclaimed Bahrani as “the director of the decade” in 2010. All of his previous feature and short films have made their world premieres at the Venice International Film Festival and the Cannes Film Festival, garnering wins such as Venice’s FIPRESCI Prize for Goodbye Solo, the London Film Festival’s FIPRESCI Prize for "Man Push Cart", the Grand Special Prize at the Deauville Film Festival for 99 Homes, and Film Independent’s “Someone to Watch” Spirit Award for "Chop Shop"; as well as a Golden Globe nomination for Michael Shannon ("99 Homes"). Bahrani is a Guggenheim Fellowship winner, has been the subject of retrospectives around the world, and his cinematic oeuvre is housed in the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
For television, Bahrani’s HBO film, "Fahrenheit 451", staring Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon, was nominated for five Emmys, including Best TV Movie, and earned a PGA award for best television film. For short films, Bahrani’s "Plastic Bag" (2009) (featuring the voice of Werner Herzog as a plastic bag), was the opening night film of the shorts section at Venice, and later screened at the New York Film Festival. It repeatedly has been called one of the greatest short films of all time. His most recent short documentary, "Blood Kin", premiered at the 2018 Venice Film Festival where he also served as President of the Debut Film Jury. His first short documentary, "Lift You Up", was made with the Mandela Foundation and premiered at the Venice, Telluride and Toronto film festivals in 2014.
Most recently, Bahrani produced Alex Camilleri’s debut feature "Luzzu", the first locally produced film from Malta, which premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival to critical acclaim and won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for actor Jesmark Scicluna. He also produced Alexandre Moratto’s Brazilian debut feature, "Socrates", which won a dozen international prizes and garnered three Spirit Award nominations in 2019.
Currently, Bahrani is directing and executive producing the limited series "The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey", based on the acclaimed novel by best-selling author Walter Mosley, and starring Samuel L. Jackson and Dominique Fishback for Apple TV+. He is also producing Moratto’s new untitled film starring Rodrigo Santoro, and will direct, write and produce the feature adaptation of Adiga’s latest novel, Amnesty, for Netflix.
NICK ALLEN, Senior Editor of RogerEbert.com
Nick Allen is the Senior Editor at RogerEbert.com.
He has been writing about film online since 2007, contributing to various publications including The Playlist, Vulture, MEL Magazine, and RogerEbert.com.
He has been a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association since 2010.
You can follow him on Twitter @nickallen_redux.
BRIAN TALLERICO, Managing Editor of RogerEbert.com
Brian Tallerico, the Editor of RogerEbert.com, 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 Vulture.com, a contributor at Rolling Stone, and freelancer for multiple outlets, including The New York Times, The Playlist, and Rotten Tomatoes. 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.
THORA BIRCH, star of "Ghost World"
Thora Birch starred on AMC’s "The Walking Dead" as ‘Gamma’ opposite Samantha Morton, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Norman Reedus. Resuming her acting career right where it left off after going to school, Birch has numerous heavily praised recent films including playing Emilia Clarke’s sister ‘Jolene’ opposite Jack Huston and Johnny Knoxville in Phillip Noyce’s "Above Suspicion" (reuniting her with her director from "Patriot Games" and "Clear and Present Danger"), "The Etruscan Smile", starring opposite Brian Cox, Rosanna Arquette, and JJ Field, and the critically-acclaimed Plan B // A24 film "The Last Black Man in San Francisco". Birch also recently starred in the Lionsgate thriller "Affairs of State" with David Corenswet, and portrayed software engineer ‘Morgan’ on Carlton Cuse and Ryan Condal’s hit series COLONY.
Thora has won SAG Awards and multiple Young Artist Awards, and has been nominated for Golden Globe, Emmy, and BAFTA awards. Some of her most iconic roles include Enid in "Ghost World", Jane in "American Beauty", Teeny in "Now and Then", and Dani in "Hocus Pocus". Other classic films in which Thora has starred include "Monkey Trouble", "All I Want for Christmas", "The Hole", and "Alaska". Thora has acted professionally since the age of 4 and a half.
TERRY ZWIGOFF, director of "Ghost World"
Born in Appleton, Wisconsin, Zwigoff held several jobs before making his breakthrough feature: the documentary Crumb (1994) in 1994. His previous jobs included musician, shipping clerk, printer and welfare office worker. In fact, Zwigoff traces his film career back to discovering a rare blues recording by an unknown Chicago blues musician he discovered in 1978. The experience of the two years spent researching this artist, a highly eccentric Howard Armstrong, became Zwigoff's first film project, a documentary titled Louie Bluie (1985) which premiered at Telluride and Sundance before its theatrical run. Zwigoff's next project became the toast of the festival circuit in 1994.
A documentary on the underground comic artist Robert Crumb, "Crumb" won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance as well as citations from the New York and Los Angeles Film Critics and the Directors Guild of America. It also became the third highest grossing documentary of all time and was on over 150 Ten Best Lists by years end. However, along with another 1994 documentary hopeful Hoop Dreams (1994), its failure to win even a nomination in the 1994 Academy Awards' Best Documentary Feature category caused an uproar that resulted in a demand to change the way the Academy voters choose the documentary feature nominees. "Crumb" chronicled Zwigoff's acquaintance of nearly two decades of Robert Crumb's life, career, the underground comic scene as well as Crumb's dysfunctional family. Even though it caused a momentary rift between the documentarian and the comic book artist, it has been reported that they have reconciled and are currently collaborating on a screenplay called "The New Girlfriend".
Even with the enormous success of "Crumb", Zwigoff refused to sell out to Hollywood. His aversion to corporate commercialism is a well-known trademark. He turned down many more commercial projects while he struggled for five years to make a feature film out of Daniel Clowes's underground comic strip "Ghost World". Released in 2001, Ghost World (2001) became the summer art house hit and captured Golden Globe nominations for Steve Buscemi and Thora Birch, who played the teenage protagonist Enid. "Ghost World" also brought acclaim for Zwigoff and his co-screenwriter Daniel Clowes, a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay in the 2002 Academy Awards. Ghost World wound up on over 150 Ten Best Lists for 2001.
MATT FAGERHOLM, Literary Editor of RogerEbert.com
Matt Fagerholm is the Literary Editor at RogerEbert.com and is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association. He spent four years writing film reviews and interviews for HollywoodChicago.com and has contributed to a variety of publications including Time Out Chicago, The A.V. Club, No Film School and Magill's Cinema Annual.
His writing/editing experience includes serving as Assistant A&E Editor at the Columbia Chronicle and a full-time writer interviewing such icons as Betty White, Ed Asner and Judy Collins at the Woodstock Independent. For nearly a decade, he served as a monthly guest on Vocalo radio's The Morning AMp program, and is also the founder of Indie Outlook, a blog and podcast featuring exclusive interviews with some of the most exciting voices in modern independent filmmaking. Follow him on Twitter at @IndieOutlook and @mattfagerholm.
RENEE BAKER, composer and conductor of the Chicago Modern Orchestra
Renee Baker is founding music director and conductor of the internationally acclaimed Chicago Orchestra Project (CMOP), a polystylistic organization that grew from the plums of classical music as well as jazz. A member of the world-renowned collective Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), there are few barriers to the creative turns of this composer, conductor, artist, and instrumentalist. As a featured ensemble, CMOP has been chosen to work with NewMusicUSA and the EarShot program of the American Composers Orchestra. Called the latest AACM visionary by DownBeat Magazine, Baker is one of the brightest and most fertile minds in active in composition today.
An expert at ensemble development and training, Baker developed the Mantra Blue Free Orchestra (Chicago), PEK' Contemporary Project (Berlin), is the progenitor of Bleueblue Walkers/Bass Kollektief, Twilight Struggles (Berlin), and has been involved in launching over 20 cutting-edge new music ensembles, including Tuntui, Wrinkled Linen, Chocolate Chitlin' Caucus, Red Chai Watch, FAQtet, Project 6, Renée Baker's Awakening, Baker ArTet, a Butoh ensemble Body Strata, and Strings Attached. Baker has performed globally from Bimhuis (Amsterdam) to Symphony Center (Chicago) and was a founding member as well as Principal Violist of Chicago Sinfonietta for 26 years.
She has composed over 2,000 works for ensembles ranging from pieces for instrumental solos, ballet and opera to large orchestral works that bridge the classical, jazz and creative music genres. Her ability to embrace various creative parameters in her work has led to commissions for the Chicago Sinfonietta, Berlin International Brass, PEK’ Contemporary Project, and DanceWright Project, among others. As an author/composer, she has self-published 5 graphic score novels and is currently scoring the silent Japanese film "A Page of Madness".
As a disruptive force in composition, she has created a gestured conducting language she calls CCL/FLOW (Cipher Conduit Linguistics), which she has employed when working with numerous cutting-edge groups in Cologne, Berlin, Netherlands, London, Chicago, Portland (OR), and other international ensembles. Another aspect of her composition skills is the development of her painted score exploratorium pieces for ensembles of variable sizes. Baker is also in demand as a lecturer and expert in nontraditional composition techniques, as well as large ensemble comprovisation/ improvisation development.
Aspects of the art world permeate Baker’s work. Her performance art work, Sunyata: Towards Absolute Emptiness, premiered at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago in May 2015, and her tactile score sculpture works will be featured as part of MCA Chicago’s Sunyata premiere.
DR. DOUGLAS A. WILLIAMS, ASALH, ASLA, NOMA, LEED Green Associate
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. Recently, Williams joined the distinguished list of Harvard University, Dumbarton Oak research awardees and lectured at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
The College of Fine and Applied Arts alumni and member of The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States is a volunteer at Krannert Center and a member of The Saints, Volunteers for the Preforming Arts. He has been engaged in over 20 motion picture and TV productions, from The Trial of the Chicago Seven to most recently as a core member of season 7 of NBC's Chicago Med. His father was the Co-founder of Black Creativity at the Chicago Musuem of Science and Industry, the longest continuously running juried exhibit of African American Art at a large mainstream venue in the US, where Mahalia Jackson opened the first show with a song over 50 years. Dr. Doug has been a PBS-MidAmerican Gardener Show panelist for over a decade.
KRISHA FAIRCHILD, star of "Krisha"
Krisha Fairchild came out of her retirement in Mexico in 2014 to play the starring role in Trey Edward Shults's debut feature, "Krisha". Based on a true story, the film was hailed as one of the 10 best films ever made on addiction. It won top honors at American festivals SXSW, Denver, Nashville and Sidewalk, as well as the Taormina Festival in Italy and Deauville in France on the heels of its European premiere at Cannes in 2015.
Her performance was lauded in feature articles in the LA Times, Vanity Fair, Vogue, Rolling Stone, and many others. In 2016 she was honored to be selected as a part of the Great Performers issue of The NY Times Magazine. The film "Krisha" won Spirit and Gotham awards. Krisha played a lead in the series Channel Zero: Butcher's Block and was recently acclaimed by The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Indie Wire, and RogerEbert.com for her lead role in the 2021 film "Freeland".
NELL MINOW, Contributing Editor of RogerEbert.com
Nell Minow reviews movies and DVDs each week as The Movie Mom online and on radio stations across the US. She is the author of The Movie Mom's Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments. Her articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Kansas City Star, USA Today, Family Fun, Daughters, Parents, and three editions of The Practical Guide to Practically Everything. She has been profiled in the New York Times, the Economist, Forbes, the Chicago Tribune, Working Woman, CFO Magazine, the Ladies Home Journal, Washingtonian Magazine, and the Chicago Sun Times, and has appeared as The Movie Mom on CBS This Morning, Fox Morning News, NPR, and CNN. She is the founder of Miniver Press, a publishing company specializing in non-fiction ebooks and print books about the arts, music, sports, history, and culture. She is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and the University of Chicago Law School and her wonderful husband allows her to have a "10 best movie" list with 20 movies on it.
ERIC PIERSON, professor at the University of San Diego
Dr. Eric Pierson is a professor of Communication Studies and former chair of the Communication Studies Department at the University of San Diego.
Expanding media literacy is philosophical glue that holds together Professor Pierson’s multiple strands of scholarly and creative work. He strives to create work which reflect academic rigor while also being accessible to those outside of the university setting.
Professor Pierson’s work appears in a wide variety of venues as he strives to reach diverse audiences, some of the venues where you find his work are academic journals, edited book collections, film festival panels, and museum exhibits.
JOSEPH OMO-OSAGIE, President of The Champaign County Mental Health Board
Joseph “Joe” Omo-Osagie has been working as a community outreach worker and counselor for the past 35 years. In this role he has had the opportunity to work within the local schools in the Champaign County area and in the state of Illinois as a whole.
He has also been a sought-after mediator on restorative justice and domestic violence. He has led community workshops on various issues from understanding the African Diaspora to parenting in a multi-cultural America to violence reduction and to human sexuality and intimate relationships.
He is currently a counselor and Psychology instructor at Parkland College Champaign. He is also at this time the President of The Champaign County Mental Health Board. He is also a fitness instructor and a caterer of African Cuisines.
JEREMY UNGAR, co-director of "Soy Cubana"
Jeremy Ungar (Co-Director of "Soy Cubana") is a writer, director and documentarian. His narrative feature debut, "Ride" (Bella Thorne, Jessie T. Usher), premiered at the 2018 Los Angeles Film Festival before being released nationwide by RLJ Entertainment.
He is the co-creator of the Emmy nominated short-form series "Survive" (Sophie Turner, Corey Hawkins). He was on The Tracking Board's 2019 Young & Hungry list, has been an artist in residence at the Gershwin Hotel in Manhattan and is a graduate of the Carnegie Mellon School of Drama's Directing Program. "Soy Cubana" is his first documentary feature.
ROBIN MILLER UNGAR, producer of "Soy Cubana"
Robin Miller Ungar (Producer), a speech-language pathologist specializing in brain injuries, had dreamed of making documentary films for years. She found the subject for her first documentary short when she encountered the Vocal Vidas in a small chapel in Santiago de Cuba. The resulting short, "Soy Cubana", went on to sixty film festivals, winning audience awards and jury prizes around the world.
A year later, Robin produced her second documentary short, "As We Are", which follows a group of young musicians on the Autism spectrum. The film premiered at the 2020 Woods Hole International Film Festival, winning the Audience Award for Documentary Short. In 2021, Robin's first long-form documentary, the feature of "Soy Cubana" had its world premiere at SXSW, winning the Audience Award in its category.
TITO CARILLO, director of the Latin Jazz Ensemble
Tito Carrillo joined the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign faculty in the Spring of 2006. He is a trumpeter, educator, bandleader, composer, and arranger, and since 1996 he has been a fixture in the Chicago jazz and Latin music scenes. The list of artists he has performed, recorded, and toured with is as varied as his skill set: Chicago heavyweights Willie Pickens, Bobby Broom, Patricia Barber, and Kurt Elling; big bands such as the Woody Herman Orchestra, Chicago Jazz Ensemble, Chicago Jazz Orchestra, and Smithsonian Masterworks Orchestra (directed by David Baker); jazz greats such as Toshiko Akiyoshi, Louis Hayes, Jon Faddis, and Vincent Herring; Salsa legends such as Andy Montaoez, Tony Vega, and Cheo Feliciano; Latin jazz giants Tito Puente and Paquito D'Rivera; and pop icons Quincy Jones and Phil Collins.
Carrillo has played some of the most prestigious venues in the world, including Chicago's Symphony Center, Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, and London's Royal Albert Hall. His work has been heard at international jazz festivals in Chicago, Telluride, Montreux (Switzerland), North Sea Jazz Festival in The Hague (Netherlands), and Pori, Finland.
As an educator, he served on the faculties at both the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, as well as Northwestern University prior to his appointment at Illinois. He has also brought his talents as an educator and performer to Chicago's inner-city high schools through the Ravinia Festival's community outreach program, the Ravinia Jazz Mentors.
The University of Illinois’s Latin Jazz Ensemble is an electrifying fifteen piece group which features many of the jazz program’s most gifted students. Under the direction of professor Tito Carrillo, this ensemble reaches deep into the rich and diverse world of Afro-Latin Music. The wide ranging repertoire explores the many sounds of the Americas, fusing the daring and colorful harmony of American jazz with a myriad of rhythms ranging from the Afro-Cuban Son, cha cha cha and mambo, the Haitian Soca, to the Samba, Bossa Nova and Baiao from Brazil. Latin Jazz Ensemble not only explores the legacies of pioneers such as Tito Puente, Machito, Dizzy Gillespie, and Eddie Palmieri, but also keeps up with current trends in the idiom, performing numerous works from contemporary artists, as well as original student compositions.
Performing at Ebertfest will be Carillo on trumpet, Kurt Reeder on piano, Emma Taylor on bass, Mateo Sanchez and Luisa Ruge-Jones on percussion, José Guzmán on guitar and vocals and Stephanie Woods Machado (pictured above) on vocals.
GUILLERMO DEL TORO, director/co-writer of "Nightmare Alley"
Guillermo del Toro Gómez (born October 9, 1964) is a Mexican film director, screenwriter, producer, and novelist. In his filmmaking career, del Toro has alternated between Spanish-language dark fantasy pieces, such as the gothic horror film "The Devil's Backbone" (2001), and "Pan's Labyrinth" (2006), and more mainstream American action movies, such as the vampire superhero action film "Blade II" (2002), the supernatural superhero film "Hellboy" (2004), its sequel "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" (2008), and the science fiction monster film "Pacific Rim" (2013). In 2018, he won the Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director for his romantic fantasy, "The Shape of Water."
In addition to his directing works, del Toro is a prolific producer, his producing works including acclaimed and successful films such as "The Orphanage" (2007), "Julia's Eyes" (2010), "Biutiful" (2010), "Kung Fu Panda 2" (2011), "Puss in Boots" (2011), and "Mama" (2013). He was originally chosen by Peter Jackson to direct "The Hobbit" films; he left the project due to production problems but was still credited as co-writer for his numerous contributions to the script.
Del Toro's work is characterized by a strong connection to fairy tales and horror, with an effort to infuse visual or poetic beauty. He has a lifelong fascination with monsters, which he considers symbols of great power. Del Toro is known for his use of insectile and religious imagery, the themes of Catholicism and celebrating imperfection, underworld and clockwork motifs, practical special effects, dominant amber lighting, and his frequent collaborations with actors Ron Perlman, Doug Jones and Federico Luppi. He is also friends with fellow Mexican directors Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu, collectively known as "The Three Amigos of Cinema."
KIM MORGAN, co-writer of "Nightmare Alley
Kim Morgan has written for The New Beverly, Sight & Sound, The Criterion Collection, Playboy, The Los Angeles Review of Books and many other outlets.
She's presented films for Turner Classic Movies, FilmStruck, sat in for Roger Ebert, served as short films juror at the Sundance Film Festival and was co-Guest Director at the 2014 Telluride Film Festival. She co-wrote the script for Guillermo del Toro's "Nightmare Alley," which received a WGA nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Brian Tallerico and Nick Allen (see "The White Tiger") will discuss "Nightmare Alley" following the screening.