Grab your popcorn: 2012 Ebertfest begins today

Grab your popcorn: 2012 Ebertfest begins today

CHAMPAIGN — The 14th annual Roger Ebert's Film Festival opening here today will showcase an eclectic mix of 13 movies, from silent shorts dating to the early 20th century to eight movies released just last year.

The guests who will appear on stage in the 1,525-seat Virginia Theatre will come from the United States, Africa, India and Australia. Ebert's "Far Flung Correspondents," who will handle some of the on-stage interviews, hail from Brazil, Mexico, India, Turkey, Canada and England.

Representing Down Under will be the Aussie auteur director Paul Cox, the subject of the documentary "On Borrowed Time," to be shown at 1 p.m. Friday. It takes what Ebert said is a poetic look at two years in the recent life of Cox, who received a life-saving liver transplant in 2009.

Not a newcomer to Ebertfest, Cox earlier brought his own movies three different times to the festival, a special event of the University of Illinois College of Media, which is Ebert's alma mater.

What promises to be another poignant (and welcome) aspect of the festival will be the screening of "Citizen Kane" (1941), which closes the festival at noon Sunday.

The BluRay version, with Ebert's acclaimed audio commentary, will be shown. The famed critic, who lost his speaking voice as a result of cancer surgeries, wrote that he had wanted to find a way to sneak his voice back into his festival.

Opening the festival at 7 tonight will be the 1990 movie "Joe Versus the Volcano" starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Afterward, cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt will speak on stage; he was director of photography for the 35mm movie.

"Roger's been wanting to show it the past 10 years," said festival director Nate Kohn said. "It always ended up being dropped from the lineup."

Usually, but not last year, Ebert opens his annual festival with a 70mm print. Kohn said he and Ebert have run out of 70mm movies they like.

"There are still some shot in 35mm blown up to 70mm that we're considering, but Roger really felt 'Joe Versus the Volcano' was a major overlooked film," Kohn said.

Another 2012 Ebertfest guest was the subject of a Times of India article published Tuesday (; it reports that Ebert had invited to his festival actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who will appear with the neo-realist movie "Patang," showing at 4 p.m. Saturday.

It was shot in high-def video in Ahmedabad, India, by Chicago native Prashant Bhargava, who will be at the festival as well. Also coming from India with "Patang" will be actor Seema Biswas.

After Ebertfest, Siddiqui will head to the Cannes Film Festival in France with "Miss Lovely," which was selected for the Un Certain Regard section of the festival.

Also going to the 2012 Cannes in early May will be Ebertfest guest/American director Jeff Nichols, with his third feature film, "Mud," set in the director's native state of Arkansas along the Mississippi River. "Mud" will be in the main competition.

At the 2012 Ebertfest — which has no competitive categories — Nichols will show his 2011 "Take Shelter" at 8:30 p.m. Saturday; the screening of the psychological thriller/family drama is sold out. "Take Shelter," starring Michael Shannon, also a 2012 Ebertfest guest, won the 2011 Grand Prize in the Critics Week competition at Cannes.

Among other notable guests this year:

— Actor-comedian Patton Oswalt, who will appear with director Robert Siegel with their 2009 movie "Big Fan," in which Oswalt plays a diehard New York Giants fan, showing at 1 p.m. Thursday.

— Michael Barker, who as co-president of Sony Pictures Classics is a heavy hitter in the movie industry. A perennial Ebertfest guest, Barker will appear on stage with Shannon and Nichols after "Take Shelter" is screened.

As of Tuesday, "Take Shelter" and "A Separation," the Iranian film that won the 2011 Oscar for best foreign film, were sold out. At past Ebertfests, people who waited in line to buy a ticket to a sold-out movie usually got in, as some festival-pass holders didn't show up.

All of the onstage discussions will be streamed live at