The Academy Award-winning Iranian film “The Separation,” the 1941 classic “Citizen Kane” — with Roger Ebert’s commentary track — and “Joe Versus the Volcano” are among the 12 movies to be screened at Ebert’s Film Festival from April 25 to 29 at the Virginia Theatre in Champaign.
Ebert released the lineup today on his Sun-Times blog. “Joe Versus the Volcano” (1990), starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, will open the festival, a special event of the University of Illinois College of Media. “Citizen Kane” will close it.
After “Joe,” the documentary “Phunny Business: A Black Comedy,” about a new generation of African-American standup comics, many of whose careers were launched at the Chicago club All Jokes Aside, and the short film “The Truth about Beauty and Blogs,” will be shown, with an appearance by the “Beauty and Blogs” filmmaker Kelechi Ezie, a rising young African-American comedienne.
“Joe,” Ebert wrote, was shortlisted for at least 10 past Ebertfests.
“As you will see, John Patrick Shanley’s film is so visionary and epic in conception that it really requires a big screen like the Virginia’s to make its ideal impact,” he wrote.” I can’t wait to see again that early scene of dark skies lowering over its factory — a vast block of ugliness set down in the middle of a field of mud. Tom Hanks stars as the worker who hates his job so much he welcomes a death sentence from his doctor. In the spirit of Alec Guiness, Meg Ryan plays three different roles in the film: as Joe’s secretary, and both daughters of Granamore (Lloyd Bridges), who wants to hire Joe to be a human sacrifice.”
On Thursday, stand-up comic and actor Patton Oswalt will appear in person with “Big Fan,” in which he plays a hard-core New York Giants fan who is beat up by his favorite player. Also playing that night will be “Kinyarwanda,” a view of the Rwanda massacres from the ground up,” Ebert wrote, and “Terri,” about an overweight 15-year-old who is bullied at school.
On Friday, festival-goers will see “On Borrowed Time,” a documentary about the recent two years of the life of Paul Cox, an Australian director who was an Ebertfest guest three previous times. The 2012 festival is dedicated to Cox, who will appear in person onstage after the screening with festival director Nate Kohn.
Also on Friday, the Alloy Orchestra, a festival staple, will perform their original scores to “Wild and Weird,” the ensemble’s sampling of short silent films. Afterward all three orchestra members will move from the pit to onstage.
“A Separation,” which won the Oscar for best foreign film and was considered by Ebert the best film of last year, will close the festival on Friday evening.
“This is 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,” Ebert wrote. “Given the constraints on filmmakers in Iran, where the director Jafar Panahi is now in prison, ‘A Separation’ is an impressive feat for its director Asghar Farhadi, who focuses on the personal stories involved and leaves it to the audience to determine right and wrong.” Farhadi hopes to attend Ebertfest in person.
The next day Ebert will show three movies: “Higher Ground,” “Patang” and “Take Shelter.”
Ebert called “Higher Ground” a triumph for Vera Farmiga, who directed and stars in it.
“It shows us a woman whose need for religion, and her relationship to it, changes over the years. We see her as a child, as a young woman of about 20, and again around 40. It is especially perceptive in showing the way that belief, for her, is founded to begin with on personal relationships with fellow believers and her church, and later deepens and is challenged by her accumulating life experience.”
The screenwriter, Carolyn S. Briggs, will appear in person.
“Patang,” an entry in the 2011 Chicago Film Festival, impressed Ebert for the skill of its director, Prashant Bhargava, “in introducing a large number of characters and organically showing us how they interacted, particularly within a family.”
“The movie has interlocking stories that are clear enough, but it doesn’t follow a rigid narrative map. It reminds me more of Robert Altman’s gift for plunging into the middle of a community of characters and giving them freedom,” Ebert wrote. Appearing with the movie will be Bhargava, who was born and raised in Chicago; his father, and actors and crew members from the movie.
The final film on April 28, “Take Shelter,” will be the second Ebertfest film directed by Jeff Nichols; it stars Michael Shannon as an Ohio husband and father plagued by apocalyptic visions. Their first Ebertfest movie was “Shotgun Stories.”
“Take Shelter” struck Ebert “immediately as featuring one of the best performances of the year, and the failure of the Academy to nominate Shannon is an indication of the fairly narrow range of films it considers.
“It seems clear to me that Shannon and Nichols must have worked closely together to create the tension in this film between reality and paranoia. Curtis, the family man played by Shannon, seems disturbed in ways we can’t quite put our finger on. Yet the events that terrify him seem real enough. Again this year the nation is being punished by one horrible tornado after another, and if a father takes dramatic steps to try to protect his family, isn’t that justifiable?”
Shannon, Nichols and Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker, a frequent Ebertfest guest, will be present in person.
With “Citizen Kane,” Ebert will “sneak” his speaking voice back into Ebertfest by playing his commentary track during the screening. Variety’s Video Premiere edition named it the best commentary track of the year.
“In the early years of the festival, one of my great joys was to participate in the onstage discussions after each film. These days I love the sessions led by our guest moderators. But indulge me and allow my voice to be heard one more time in the Virginia,” he wrote.
Ebert’s blog on the 2012 Ebertfest is at http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2012/03/introducing_ebertfest_2012.html