Gene Hackman in the spotlight at EIU this weekend

For the past eight years, the Arts Department at EIU has been quietly holding a film festival that focuses on the work of Illinois natives who have made a mark on movie industry, for good or ill.  The first festival examined the work of Gregg Toland, a Charleston native and master cinematographer, the second was devoted to B-movie actor William Phipps and the third focused on EIU graduate Burl Ives. Silent films, movies dealing on Abraham Lincoln and features geared towards young adults have been the subject of other festivals, all making for one of the most eclectic film gatherings in the country.

And the best part? All events at the festival are free.

The Versatile Gene Hackman is the title of this year’s Embarras Valley Film Festival and the subject could not be more appropriate.  The Danville native, retired since 2004, emerged in the 1960’s as one of the most resourceful film actors of his generation, a performer who, while never undergoing a drastic physical transformation in order to inhabit a role, proved himself fully capable of inhabiting any kind of role in any kind of movie.  He showed his mettle in dramas like The Conversation (1974) and Crimson Tide (1995), had a flair for comedy in Young Frankenstein (1974) and Superman (1978), was at home in genre films, whether they were westerns such as The Quick and the Dead (1995) or war movies like A Bridge too Far (1977) and was able to slide into period pieces such as Mississippi Burning (1988) without breaking a sweat.

Five of Hackman’s finest will be screened as part of the film festival and each shows not only how versatile he is but also highlight transitional roles that were key in the development of Hackman as an actor.  What follows is a brief description of each movie being shown as well as the time and location.  Oh, and did I mention that admission to these films is free???

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Bonnie and Clyde (1967) – One of the key films of the last 50 years, this unorthodox portrayal of the mythic box robbers was a seismic shift in the way violence was presented on film and made the notion of focusing on anti-heroes a far more acceptable practice. Hackman, as Clyde Barrow’s brother Buck, scored his first Oscar nomination for his performance, displaying not only a good ole boy sensibility but an unexpected vulnerability as well.  The film never loses its impact and if you’ve never seen it on a big screen, you owe it to yourself to do so. Screening on Thursday, November 1 at 3 pm at the Doudna Lecture Hall at EIU.



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Unforgiven (1992) – Hackman was reluctant to be in Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece as he felt it glorified violence.  At the director’s urging he read it again, changed his mind and went on to win his second Oscar, this time for Best Supporting Actor.  Never afraid to delve into the dark side of his characters, his portrayal of the sadistic Sheriff Bill Daggett is one of the most complex and rewarding, as his motivations are at times justified and others heinous.  Screening on Friday, November 2 at 7 pm at the Doudna Theatre at EIU.




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The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) – One of Hackman’s slyest and most touching performance comes in this fascinating dark comedy playing the worthless patriarch of a fractured family who tries to get back into his children’s good graces after being diagnosed with a terminal illness.  Wholly self-serving, Hackman brings a humanity to the character that draws us into his corner, despite his questionable behavior.  Screening on Friday, November 2 at 10 pm at the Doudna Theatre at EIU.




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Hoosiers (1986) – Often regarded as the greatest sports film ever made, this is perhaps the actor’s most endearing feature.  Hackman is Norman Dale, a man with a clouded past who gets one last chance at coaching and leads a group of high school boys from a small Indiana school to the state championship.  Heartfelt and poignant, this movie continues to pack a punch, even after multiple viewings. Screening on Saturday, November 3 at 2 pm at the Tarble Arts Center at EIU.





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The French Connection (1971) – Hackman won his first Oscar for his portrayal of New York cop Popeye Doyle who is doggedly trying to uncover a French drug ring set on infiltrating the Big Apple.  Gritty and raw, the film features one of the great car chases in movie history, while the actor’s unvarnished turn keeps us engaged from beginning to end.  Screening on Saturday, November 3 at 7 pm at the Doudna Theatre at EIU.


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