Founded in 1999 by the late Roger Ebert, University of Illinois Journalism graduate and Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic, Roger Ebert’s Film Festival (Ebertfest) celebrates films that haven’t received the recognition they deserved during their original runs. The festival gives these films and their filmmakers a well-deserved second look.
Ebertfest takes place in Urbana-Champaign each April. Chaz Ebert, Roger’s beloved wife, business partner and fellow film-lover, is the festival co-founder, producer and host.
While Roger passed away in April 2013, his influence on the Festival continues. True to Roger’s vision, the twelve films screened during the five day event represent a cross-section of important cinematic works overlooked by audiences, critics and/or distributors. Some films come from lists of possible films that Roger drew up over the first 15 years of the festival. Chaz Ebert and Festival Director Nate Kohn select additional films based on Roger’s established criteria for an Ebertfest film. Both Chaz and Nate worked closely with Roger for fifteen years on programming the festival.
The Festival brings together the films’ producers, writers, actors and directors to help showcase their work. A filmmaker or scholar introduces the films, and screenings are followed by an in depth on-stage Q&A discussion among filmmakers, critics and the audience.
Ebertfest is a special event of the College of Media at the University of Illinois, and the festival, in conjunction with the College, hosts a number of on-campus academic panel discussions each year that feature filmmaker guests, scholars and students.
All the festival films screen in the 1,500-seat Virginia Theatre, a restored 1920s movie palace with state-of-the-art 35/70mm and digital projection. A portion of the Festival’s income goes toward on-going renovations at the theatre.
The mission of Ebertfest is to celebrate films, genres and formats that have been overlooked by distributors, audiences and/or critics. These include independent, international and studio films that did not win wide audiences; overlooked formats such as 70mm; and overlooked genres such as documentaries and musical. The festival screens one film at a time, so everyone sees the same films at the same time, promoting a strong sense of community among audience members, filmmakers, guests, students and scholars.