CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane,” often cited as the greatest film ever made, is coming to the 14th annual Roger Ebert’s Film Festival, April 25-29 in Champaign-Urbana.
"Joe Versus the Volcano," a 1990 film starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, is the opening-night film at
7 p.m. April 25. | View video on 2012 Ebertfest
Also on the list for this year’s festival: Ebert’s best-of pick for 2011 and the Oscar winner for best foreign film, “A Separation,” from Iran, and a film he’s been waiting more than a decade to show at the festival, 1990’s “Joe Versus the Volcano,” starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
For the first time in several years, Ebert’s voice will return to “Ebertfest” by way of his commentary track for “Citizen Kane,” which will be played with the film.
Guests will include the Oscar-nominated actor Michael Shannon, seen recently in the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire,” and comedian and actor Patton Oswalt, seen recently in the film “Young Adult,” and a regular on the past TV comedy “The King of Queens.”
Oswalt is coming for the film “Big Fan,” in which he stars, but he also will host a free pre-festival screening of “Kind Hearts and Coronets” (1949), starring Alec Guinness in eight different male and female roles, at 7:30 p.m. on April 24 in Foellinger Auditorium on the University of Illinois campus.
As usual, all the festival films will be screened at the 1,500-seat Virginia Theater, a 1920s-era Champaign movie palace, with other events (to be announced later) at the
U. of I.
Among the other festival films are stories about the Rwandan genocide and its aftermath, an overweight and bullied teenager, a woman’s journey of religious faith, a family and a kite festival in India, and the struggles of a family man in a small town threatened by a storm.
One of the festival’s two documentaries will highlight the role of a Chicago comedy club in producing some of today’s most popular African-American comedians. The other chronicles the life of filmmaker Paul Cox and his near-fatal brush with cancer.
Returning for the 12th time to the festival will be the three-man Alloy Orchestra, of Cambridge, Mass., this time with a collection of 10 short silent films that they will accompany live – the first being Georges Méliès’ 14-minute “A Trip to the Moon,” part of the story in the recent movie “Hugo.”
This year’s schedule of films, with the current lineup of guests (Ebert’s comments are from past reviews or his online journal):
Wednesday, April 25
7 p.m. – “Joe Versus the Volcano” (1990), a comedy about a man with a terminal illness asked to throw himself into a volcano to placate natives on a mineral-rich island. The movie is “visionary and epic in conception,“ such that it requires a big screen, and also original, according to Ebert. “Most movies are constructed out of bits and pieces of other movies … but not ‘Joe Versus the Volcano.’ ”
10 p.m. – “The Truth About Beauty and Blogs” (2011), a comedy short about a social media diva thrown off her game when her boyfriend’s Web activities start to interfere with her image, written by and starring African-American comedian Kelechi Ezie. (This short will be on the same ticket with the movie that follows.)
10:15 p.m. – “Phunny Business: A Black Comedy” (2011), a documentary about the former Chicago black comedy club All Jokes Aside and the man who ran it, Raymond C. Lambert. The club helped launch virtually every successful black comedian who emerged in the 1990s, according to Ebert, among them Jamie Foxx, Bernie Mac, Cedric the Entertainer, Steve Harvey, D.L. Hughley and Dave Chapelle, and many of them are seen in the film. Director John Davies, along with Lambert and Ezie, will be guests.
Thursday, April 26
1 p.m. – “Big Fan” (2009), the story of a parking lot attendant who lives with his mother and rabidly follows his football team, the New York Giants, calling in frequently to a sports radio station. “This isn't only, or even, a sports movie. It's about leading a life vicariously,” Ebert says, and credits Patton Oswalt, in the title role, with penetrating the heart of the character. Oswalt will be a guest.
4 p.m. – “Kinyarwanda” (2011), a “ground level” look at the 1994 genocide and its aftermath in Rwanda, told through a series of vignettes and characters, most played by Rwandan actors. Ebert says he was moved by the film “Hotel Rwanda,” but deeply “shaken” by this one. Among the guests will be Alrick Brown, the Jamaican
writer-director; actress Cassandra Freeman; and other members of the production team.
8:30 p.m. – “Terri” (2011), an “uncommon” movie among those about high school misfits, about an overweight and bullied 15-year-old boy and the relationship he develops with an assistant principal. Jacob Wysocki plays the boy and John C. Reilly the assistant principal, and Ebert credits them with “scenes of actual communication between two people rarely seen in any movie.” Wysocki and director Azazal Jacobs will be guests.
Friday, April 27
1 p.m. – “On Borrowed Time” (2011), a documentary by David Bradbury that pays tribute to the life and work of Australian filmmaker Paul Cox, including his recent and nearly terminal bout with cancer. “If ever there was a film destined for Ebertfest it's this one,” Ebert says, since three Cox films have been screened at previous festivals and Cox has attended all of them. Cox will be a guest.
4 p.m. – “Wild and Weird,” a special program of 10 innovative short films from 1906 to 1926, during the silent era, accompanied by the Alloy Orchestra.
8:30 p.m. – “A Separation” (2011), the story of a married couple in Iran torn between moving abroad for the sake of their child and caring for a father with Alzheimer’s disease. Ebert calls it “an extraordinary film, taking on an intractable moral dilemma and considering it in such observant terms that we learn an enormous amount about the Iranian society and its people.” Director Asghar Farhadi is tentatively scheduled as a guest.
Saturday, April 28
1 p.m. – “Higher Ground” (2011), a film about a woman’s journey of religious faith, founded at first on relationships with fellow believers and then challenged through life experience. Ebert calls it a “triumph” for Vera Farmiga, who directed and stars. Screenwriter Carolyn S. Briggs will be a guest.
4 p.m. – “Patang (The Kite)” (2011), the story of a family based in the Indian city of Ahmedabad, home of the country’s largest annual kite festival. Written and directed by Prashant Bhargava, an Indian-American raised on the South Side of Chicago, the film took seven years to make, uses mostly nonactors, and “flies as free and colorfully as a kite,” according to Ebert. Bhargava will be a guest, along with his father, who served as the film’s executive producer, and several others from the cast and crew.
8:30 p.m. – “Take Shelter” (2011), a film about a family man in a small town in Ohio, haunted by nightmares and a family history of mental illness, who must protect his family from an approaching storm. Michael Shannon stars and Ebert calls his performance one of the best of the year, and credits director Jeff Nichols with a “sure touch for small town life.” Shannon and Nichols will be guests, along with Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker.
Sunday, April 29
Noon – “Citizen Kane” (1941), the classic film by Orson Welles, inspired by the life of media mogul William Randolph Hearst, to be screened with Ebert’s commentary track, recorded for a DVD release several years ago. In an earlier review of the movie, Ebert said, “Its surface is as much fun as any movie ever made. Its depths surpass understanding.” David Bordwell, a retired University of Wisconsin film studies professor, will introduce the film and lead the discussion after.
The schedule also can be found at ebertfest.com, complete with Ebert’s reviews and information about other events. Also available on the website at the time of the event will be live streaming of panel discussions and the post-film Q-and-A sessions at the Virginia Theater.
The festival is an event of the College of Media at Illinois. Additional support is provided by Steak ‘n Shake and the Champaign County Anti-Stigma Alliance, which will host a free post-festival screening of “Antwone Fisher” at 4 p.m. on April 29 at the Virginia.
Ebert is a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and co-hosted “Ebert & Roeper,” a weekly televised movie-review program, until 2006. He also produced and contributed to “Ebert Presents at the Movies,” which ran through last year.
Ebert is a 1964 Illinois journalism graduate and adjunct journalism professor.
Ebert selects films for the festival that he feels have been overlooked in some way, either by critics, distributors or audiences, or because they come from overlooked genres or formats, such as documentaries. (The festival previously was called “Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival.” It was renamed in 2008.)
Guests connected with the selected films are invited to attend, and many appear on stage for informal Q-and-A sessions after the screenings. Also attending and participating in some discussions will be members of Ebert’s “far flung correspondents,” a group of film commentators from all over the world who regularly contribute to his online journal.
As in recent festivals, Ebert’s wife, Chaz, will act as the emcee. Ebert will play a role through his “computer voice.”
Tickets for individual films will go on sale beginning April 2 through the theater box office (phone 217-356-9063; fax: 217-356-5729) and online through the theater website. The price will be $13 each for regular admission and $11 each for students and senior citizens. Sales will be limited to four per person.
The 1,000 festival passes, covering all festival screenings, went on sale in November and recently sold out.
Even if tickets for individual films are sold out, entrance can usually be obtained by waiting in a rush line that forms outside the theater prior to each screening.
Those seeking additional information and updates on films, guests and festival events should contact Mary Susan Britt, at 217-244-0552 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or festival director Nate Kohn, at 706-542-4972 or email@example.com.