Welcome to the Ninth Annual
Overlooked Film Festival. Comparisons with previous years are impossible,
but I think we have one of our strongest programs, with an unusual
range of films, and three live musical performances, plus the score
This year I will be joining you in the audience.
Because of health problems, I'm not yet able to resume my role
on stage, but I hope to be doing the Q & A again next year.
We had a discussion about canceling the festival this year, but
when Mary Susan Britt, the associate festival director, told me
all the passes had been sold in about a week's time, I made a commitment
to go forward with the festival, and I thank you for your support.
In the meantime, I've enlisted expert friends and colleagues to
lead the on-stage discussions. They include David Bordwell, the
prolific and most respected film scholar from the University of
Wisconsin; Michael Barker, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics;
David Poland from thehotbutton.com; Eric Byler, the director of "Charlotte
Sometimes;" Peter Sobczynski, film critic; Jim Emerson, editor
of www.rogerebert.com; Jacqueline Reich, Associate Professor of
State University of New York at Stonybrook; Anna Thomas, Producer/Screenwriter
(El Norte); Jim DeRogatis, Rock Critic, Chicago Sun-Times; and
Michael Philips, Film Critic, Chicago Tribune.
Again this year we'll be exploiting the giant screen
of the Virginia Theatre to show widescreen films in their original
magnificence. We always try to open with a film projected in the
rare, classic 70mm format, but this year we've chosen a film that
would have been shot in 70mm if the format were more accepted:
Andrew Niccol's "Gattaca," with its futuristic vision
of a chilling new world.
I'm also excited to be able to see Federico Fellini's "La
Dolce Vita" in its original widescreen. The title is famous,
but to see it in 35mm widescreen is almost impossible. And the
format shows off its elegant black-and-white cinematography.
We welcome for the second time "The Father of
African Cinema," Ousmane Sembene, with his latest film, "Moolaade." When
it premiered at Cannes, I called it one of the best films in the
festival, but it never received a wide release in this country.
Its subject, compulsory female circumcision, may seem grim. But
Sembene brings astonishing humor and life to his story.
We've brought back four recent releases that failed
to make the impact they deserved at the box office. "Perfume:
The Story of a Murderer," directed by Tom Tykwer ("Run,
Lola, Run") is a haunting version of a novel by Patrick Suskind
many readers thought could never be filmed. "The
Weather Man," with another great performance by Nicolas Cage,
is a stunning portrait of a sad loser in crisis; Michael Caine
co-stars as a father who cannot forgive failure. "Holes," directed
by Chicago native and Illinois graduate Andy Davis ("The Fugitive")
is much more than a
children's story…it is parable, allegory, haunting. And
the directing debut by the wonderful actress Joey Lauren Adams, "Come
Early Morning," features one of Ashley Judd's best performances,
and brilliant work by Scott Wilson. He and wife Heavenly were here
for the first festival, and have become treasured friends, returning
for the third time.
Two of my all-time favorite directors, masters of
originality, are making return visits. Paul Cox of Australia is
back with "Man of Flowers," the portrait of a disturbed
and very lonely man, and Werner Herzog presents "Stroszek," the
story of three odd Europeans invading an even odder Wisconsin.
The final mechanical chicken scene is immortal.
We have shown a silent film with live orchestra every
year. But what a triumph this year when the Champaign-Urbana Symphony,
under the direction of Steven Larsen, accompanies Raoul Walsh's "Sadie
Thompson." The Orchestra developed this project itself, and
I have boundless gratitude to them for offering it to us. Our friends
from the Alloy Orchestra continue to have great success and will
return in the near future.
Two other films have unexpected portraits of musicians
at opposite extremes. Rudi Dolezal's "Freddie Mercury, the
Untold Story," shows a Freddie Mercury we never knew existed.
Rudi Dolezal will attend from Vienna, Austria. Andrew Douglas' "Searching
for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus" shows a portrait of the South rarely
seen. Its musician star, Jim White, will follow it on stage.
The showing of "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" is
a tribute to director Russ Meyer, a longtime friend and truly overlooked
artist. It will be followed by a live reunion performance by the
legendary Strawberry Alarm Clock. Recently, we lost Russ Meyer
and Marcello Mastroianni ("La Dolce Vita"). Their work
speaks for their genius. This festival is dedicated to the memory
of the great independent director, Robert Altman, whose death in
November was a loss to cinema and mankind.
In the months since July, 2006, illness has made
my life difficult. I thought recovery would come more quickly.
Without the tireless dedication of Festival Director Nate Kohn,
Associate Director Mary Susan Britt, and my cherished wife, Chaz,
there could have been no festival this year. Heartfelt thanks to
them, and Executive Producer Nancy Casey, and my Personal Assistant,
In the projection booth, all formats will be showcased
by wizards of light James Bond and Steve Kraus.
The Overlooked is possible only because of the tireless
generosity of our sponsors and the tireless work of our volunteers,
for whom thanks seems hardly adequate. The festival is a production
of the College of Communications of the University of Illinois
at Urbana-Champaign, whose dean, Ron Yates, has been generous in
his support and encouragement.
Jameel Jones and Anthony Howell deserve warm credit
for the Virginia Theatre operation itself, which they coordinate
and supervise with warm hospitality. Thanks to the Champaign Park
District for its support of the Overlooked and the festival area.
Dusty Cohl, who founded the Toronto Film Festival, joins with his
wife Joan as our Accomplices-in-Chief. Robert Baird is our invaluable
webmaster at ebertfest.com; Leone Advertising designed the new
look of the site; Carlton Bruett is responsible for the posters
and the look of the festival; and Allison Firor is our invaluable
coordinator. Among many local friends, many from my early years
here, none gives warmer or more cheerful hospitality than the irreplaceable
Betsy Hendrick. And special thanks to our long time sponsors and
friends Jim Pritzker, Ed Tracy, Mary Frances Fagan, Roger and Joanne
Plummer, Brand Fortner, and Marsha and Roger Woodbury. The Daily
Illini, my other alma mater, produces this splendid program.
And very special thanks to University President B.
Joseph White and Chancellor Richard Herman for their generous and
* * *
After nine years the festival is overlooked no
more. So next year we will rename it more accurately: Ebertfest – Roger
Ebert's Film Festival.