Ebertfest 2012 draws to a close

Ebertfest 2012 draws to a close

CHAMPAIGN — When she taught an introductory film course at Danville Area Community College, Martha Kay started and ended each semester by showing "Citizen Kane." She estimated she saw the movie 40 times.

On Sunday, the closing day of the 14th annual Roger Ebert's Film Festival, Kay saw "Kane" again on the Virginia Theatre's big screen, with audio commentary by Roger Ebert.

"I saw many new things, thanks to Roger," she said as she left.

Among them, the retired instructor said, were parallel window images "that were repetitive and meaningful," triangulation compositions and special effects.

"It was just wonderful," Kay said.

At least one person didn't share her view. An irate festival-goer, a middle-aged woman, demanded her money back, saying she didn't know there would be talking throughout the film. Only bits of dialogue and sound were heard between Ebert's comments.

The critic happened to be nearby when the woman complained.

"He didn't miss a beat. He extended his hand and shook hers," said Virginia manager Steve Bentz.

Later, festival Director Nate Kohn came on stage with a message: "Roger wants to send his apologies to the lady in the lobby who was loudly demanding her money back because he was talking during the entire movie."

Otherwise, the festival, a special event of Ebert's alma mater, the University of Illinois College of Media, ended on poignant and love-filled notes. After "Kane" ended, emcee Chaz Ebert came on stage to introduce the post-screening panelists. She didn't get too far before breaking into tears and handing the microphone to Kohn.

Her once-loquacious husband lost his speaking voice a few years ago as a result of complications from cancer surgery. She and he decided to show "Kane" with his award-winning commentary to "sneak" his speaking voice one last time into the Virginia, he said.

While opening the festival earlier Sunday, Chaz told the audience "at this festival, everybody is open, loving, generous and giving to each other."

She mentioned a couple who had met at an earlier festival, later married and return nearly every year. And she introduced Chuck and Eileen Kuenneth of Chicago. They met in Roger's film class in the '80s and now come to his festival each year. Celebrating their 21st wedding anniversary, the two stood and began to sit back down before pausing to kiss.

The 2012 festival showcased 12 features and one short, all handpicked by Roger Ebert with input from his wife and Kohn. Seven of the feature screenings sold out, but everyone who waited in a "rush line" to get into a movie got his or her wish, Bentz said.

The five-day festival also went off without any problems, except for Patton Oswalt's canceling his appearance with the movie "Big Fan" on Thursday, organizers said. Traffic problems stemming from another marathon, the fourth annual Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon, were minor.

Next year, the festival won't butt heads with the marathon, which this year drew 11,200 people on Saturday and 5,100 on Friday. The 15th annual Ebertfest will be April 17-21; the 2013 marathon will be a week later.

And when festival-goers return to the 1,525-seat Virginia, they will discover new seats. The Champaign Park District-owned theater will undergo extensive renovations between closing at the end of May and re-opening next March. They include the re-plastering of the ceiling, from which a few large chunks have fallen.

While the theater is closed, "We'll take our movies out to the parks so people don't forget and still associate movies with the Virginia Theatre," park district Executive Director Bobbie Herakovich said.


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