Art Theater — where Ebert's love affair with movies began — to screen 'Life Itself'

Art Theater — where Ebert's love affair with movies began — to screen 'Life Itself'

CHAMPAIGN — The Art Theater has undergone many incarnations over the past 100 years, including a few as a porn-movie house.

In the late '50s, though, the Art Theater Guild took over, renamed it the Art Theatre and began to focus on foreign, classic and underground movies.

The Art then became the place where Urbana native Roger Ebert "learned about the art of film," he said.

So it's no wonder the Art Theater Co-op will be the first East Central Illinois theater to open, on Friday, "Life Itself," the highly anticipated documentary about Ebert based partly on his memoir.

"This is the theater that Roger Ebert grew up in, the place where he learned the art of film, where he saw Fellini and Bergman — all the great classic films," said Art Theater Co-op general manager Austin McCann. "What a formative place for him."

"Life Itself," directed by Steve James, will play for one week at the Art, after having opened in 23 cities nationwide July 4. Moviegoers turned out in big numbers to see the movie, wrote Chaz Ebert in her blog published Monday at

"Life Itself" was No. 1 at the specialty box office, averaging $6,000 on 23 screens over its opening weekend. It took in $138,000 in 14 markets for a promising $6,000 per-screen average, Chaz Ebert wrote.

"Magnolia Pictures is distributing the film in a very respectful manner and has plans to expand 'Life Itself' to an additional 25 theaters next week and up to 100 theaters in two weeks," she wrote. "The film is also available on iTunes and on video on demand.

"What I have been most pleased about, however, is the response to the movie. In addition to reports of people sniffling and sobbing during some parts of the movie, and laughing uproariously during other parts, I have been receiving dispatches of how moved people have been by the movie and by Roger's courage in being so transparent. And how ultimately life-affirming the film is."

The Art Theater, the first cooperatively owned and operated art-movie house in the country, actually pays tribute to Ebert year-round by screening movies on his "Great Movies" list.

This week those are "A Hard Day's Night" (1964), starring the Beatles, and "Chinatown" (1974), starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway.

Next week, the Art Theater Co-op will open two critically acclaimed movies it thinks Ebert would have liked, McCann said:

— "Snowpiercer," a sci-fi epic directed by Korean director Bong Joon-ho about a failed global-warming experiment that kills off most life on the planet, except for survivors aboard the "Snowpiercer," a train that travels around the globe via a perpetual-motion engine.

— "Obvious Child," a romantic comedy about aspiring comedienne Donna Stern (Jenny Slate), whose life as a female 20-something provides material for her humor. After her boyfriend dumps her and she discovers she's pregnant, she begins to discover what it is to be an adult.

Besides showing movies that Ebert loved (and hated such as "Blue Velvet"), the Art Theater Co-op's Education Committee is discussing how it can use Ebert's early movie-viewing experiences to expand interest in classic movies and the art of cinema, according to McCann.

"We're going back and looking at the first films he was seeing and talking about some kind of programming where we can take people through his footsteps," he said.

"We're thinking about how to program so that people can go through the same film education he went through, by playing the same classics on screen that he saw so that they will be impressed by them and we hopefully create more Roger Eberts in the future."

If you go

What: "Life Itself," a documentary about film critic/Urbana native Roger Ebert, directed by Steve James

When: 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Friday, Tuesday and next Thursday; 2:30 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday; and 5 p.m. Monday.

Where: Art Theater Co-op, 126 W. Church St., C.

Tickets: Adults, $9.50 after 6 p.m. and $8 before 6 p.m.; senior citizens and children, $7; students, $8. You must ask for the discounts and students must provide an ID.

Information: 355-0068;;

Online: Chaz Ebert on her husband, his legacy and "Life Itself" at

Topics (2):Film, People