When Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert died April 4, 2013 at age 70 after a years-long battle with cancer, he left behind a vibrant legacy. The Urbana, Ill. native inspired countless other critics and boasted a fan base of millions of fellow movie lovers around the world. Now, a year after his passing, a vital strand of that heritage, Ebertfest: Roger Ebert’s Film Festival, kicks of its 16th year tonight at the historic, 1,500-seat Virginia Theatre in Champaign, Ill.
“Ebertfest draws perfect audiences,” wrote Ebert in his blog May 1, 2012. “They [are] always in tune.”
The festival, which runs through Sunday, is set to begin at 7:30 p.m. with a screening of “Life Itself,” a documentary on Ebert’s life which premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
“The documentary concentrates really on Roger’s years in Chicago: his years as a newspaperman at the Sun-Times, his relationship with [late ‘At The Movies’ television partner and Chicago Tribune film critic] Gene Siskel and his meeting his wife, Chaz,” said Dr. Nathaniel Kohn, festival director and co-founder. “I’ve seen it and it’s an extraordinary piece of work.”
As is now tradition, each of this year’s 12 Ebertfest films will feature a panel discussion with those involved in their production including: Steve James (director, “Life Itself”); Oliver Stone (director, “Born on the Fourth of July”); Bennett Miller (director, “Capote”); Spike Lee (director, “Do the Right Thing”); Jem Cohen, director (“Museum Hours”); Brie Larson and Keith Stanfield, actors (“Short Term 12”); Haifaa Al-Mansour, director (“Wadjda”); Ann Hui, director (“A Simple Life”); and Ramin Bahrani, director (“Goodbye Solo”). Kohn will screen "Bayou Maharajah, which he produced, at noon Sunday along with Lily Keber, director; Henry Butler, musician; and Tim Watson, editor.