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Three Queens of Cinema to Grace Ebertfest 2018

I am thrilled to announce that Ava DuVernay, Julie Dash and Amma Asante, these Three Queens of Cinema, will grace our Ebertfest Film Festival April 18-22, in Champaign, Illinois. Ava first met Roger outside of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion during rehearsals for the Academy Awards when she was 8 years old. She was accompanied by her aunt whose death later inspired Ava's poignant independent film, 'I Will Follow.' Roger gave the film a Thumbs Up and said that it reminded him of his Aunt Martha who used to take him to the movies. Now Ava has directed a 100 million dollar movie, "Wrinkle in Time," which is a love letter to little girls everywhere. And I am especially thrilled to welcome her to Ebertfest because of all of the good work she is doing in Hollywood to ensure that women and people of color are having opportunities that were not available before. She didn't stop at her own success, she reached out and invited others to come along.

In addition to Ava bringing her Oscar-nominated documentary "13th", Julie Dash will present the luxurious "Daughters of the Dust." Before there was Beyonce, or Lemonade, there was Ms. Dash and her film about Gullahs living in coastal South Carolina. She led the way for other female directors. Amma Asante did something that no one ever thought possible, bringing a Jane Austen sensibility to historical issues of race in England in her film "Belle.” 

I cannot believe that our film festival will be celebrating its twentieth year. Roger would be so proud of it. I am also extremely grateful to be planning Ebertfest with Festival Director, Nate Kohn, who has been with us from the very beginning. He and I are going a bit retro in Roger's honor so that we can present footage of Roger talking about some of the films and guests. And it is going to be a big glorious cinema party with 70 mm projections, fabulous films and filmmakers, and even cake and ice cream and bands. Roger said we are to contribute joy to the world, and believe me, this 20th anniversary will be joyous. 

We like to start the festival with a bang and director Andrew Davis' award-winning film "The Fugitive" will do just that. Our projectionist, whose name is really James Bond, will project the images on the huge screen at the beautiful Virginia Theater, and I will hold my breath in anticipation of the heart-stopping train wreck scene. Andy Davis' film was just named #4 in the Illinois Top 200 project, a statewide poll of the best films in Illinois history. "The Fugitive" celebrates its 25th anniversary of release having opened in theaters on August 6th, 1993.

The 20th Anniversary of Ebertfest will be held April 18th-22nd, 2018 at the Virginia Theatre in Champaign, Illinois with related talks and panel discussions to be held at the Hyatt Place in Champaign and at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This year’s event will be dedicated to my beloved Roger and to our friend, Mary Frances Fagan. Roger called Mary Frances our festival's “Guardian Angel” because she and American Airlines generously supported our essential travel needs. She passed away recently on February 4th. A memorial service will be held for her in Chicago on April 14th at the Museum of Broadcast Communications.

We will announce the balance of the festival schedule soon, including the academic panels, other special filmmaker guests, and our panels of historians, critics and scholars who will conduct Question & Answer sessions onstage. 


Festival Passes are available for $150, plus processing. Festival-goers will receive a discount when they purchase a four-pack priced at $510 instead of $600, or 15 percent off. Additionally, a small number of U. of I. student passes will be made available priced at $100 each. All passes can be purchased through, or at the Virginia Theater box office, 203 W. Park Ave., Champaign, 217-356-9063.

Tickets for individual movies will be available April 2nd. Admission is $15 for adults and $13 for students and seniors.

Special Sponsorship packages allow reserved seating, promotional consideration of your company's logo, and dining opportunities in our Green Room. It also allows for the continuation of our festival. Please click here for more information on how to become a Sponsor. 


THE FUGITIVE (1993) – Opening Night Film

Directed by Andrew Davis, 130 mins, FORMAT TBD

Special Guest Andrew Davis will be in attendance

Wrongfully accused of murdering his wife, Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) escapes from the law in an attempt to find her killer and clear his name. Pursuing him is a team of U.S. marshals led by Deputy Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones), a determined detective who will not rest until Richard is captured. As Richard leads the team through a series of intricate chases, he discovers the secrets behind his wife's death and struggles to expose the killer before it is too late.

In his 4-star review, Roger Ebert called the film “one of the best entertainments of the year, a tense, taut and expert thriller that becomes something more than that, an allegory about an innocent man in a world prepared to crush him.” 

13TH (2016) 

Directed by Ava DuVernay, 100 Mins, DCP 

Special Guest Ava DuVernay will be in attendance

The title of Ava DuVernay's extraordinary and galvanizing documentary refers to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which reads "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States." The progression from that second qualifying clause to the horrors of mass criminalization and the sprawling American prison industry is laid out by DuVernay with bracing lucidity. With a potent mixture of archival footage and testimony from a dazzling array of activists, politicians, historians, and formerly incarcerated women and men, DuVernay creates a work of grand historical synthesis.

In his 4 star review on, Odie Henderson wrote that "13th" is “an unflinching, well-informed and thoroughly researched look at the American system of incarceration, specifically how the prison industrial complex affects people of color.” 

BELLE (2014) 

Directed by Amma Asante, 102 Mins, DCP 

Special Guests Amma Asante (and possibly Gugu Mbatha-Raw) will be in attendance

"Belle" is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the illegitimate mixed race daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay (Matthew Goode). Raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson), Belle's lineage affords her certain privileges, yet her status prevents her from the traditions of noble social standing. While her cousin Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) chases suitors for marriage, Belle is left on the sidelines wondering if she will ever find love. After meeting an idealistic young vicar's son bent on changing society, he and Belle help shape Lord Mansfield's role as Lord Chief Justice to end slavery in England.


Directed by Julie Dash, 112 Mins, TBD FORMAT 

Special Guest Director Julie Dash will be in attendance

At the dawn of the 20th century, a family in the Gullah community of coastal South Carolina -- former West African slaves who adopted many of their ancestors' Yoruba traditions -- suffers a generational split. Young Haagar (Kaycee Moore) wants to move to the mainland away from tradition-bound matriarch Nana (Cora Lee Day). Former prostitute Yellow Mary (Barbara-O) gets a cold shoulder when she returns to the island with her female lover, especially from her sister Viola (Cheryl Lynn Bruce).

Roger Ebert called the film “a tone poem of old memories, a family album in which all of the pictures are taken on the same day” in his 3 star review. He went on to say that “at certain moments we are not sure exactly what is being said or signified, but by the end we understand everything that happened -- not in an intellectual way, but in an emotional way.”

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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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