Ebert film festival a sellout for first time

Ebert film festival a sellout for first time

CHAMPAIGN – For the first time in the six-year history of Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival, tickets to all the films are sold out.

But "rush tickets" will be available. Moviegoers without tickets or festival passes who want to see a certain film are advised to arrive at the Virginia Theatre about 30 minutes before the screening time to wait in line.

"A lot of people who have festival passes don't necessarily go to every single film," said Nate Kohn, the festival director. "We've never had to turn away people. We want to make sure everybody gets a seat."

Altogether, the vintage Virginia seats about 1,525. About 1,050 festival passes were sold at $75 each; individual tickets are $8. Kohn said Tuesday that he is "dumbstruck" at the fact that all 11 films sold out before the festival begins this evening.

"We've been heading in this direction since the festival started," he said. "Every year we've had more and more people."

Festival organizers are not sure how many are from out of town. This year, 300 passes were sold over TicketWeb, but those buyers could live in town or outside Champaign-Urbana. Each year the festival has drawn more media attention.

The Overlooked Film Festival officially opens at 7:30 p.m. today with the screening of a newly restored 70mm print of the 1962 epic (216 minutes) "Lawrence of Arabia" with Peter O'Toole in his first leading role on screen.

Jack Valenti, head of the Motion Picture Association of America, is to be onstage with Ebert as the film is introduced and perhaps after the screening.

Onstage with the critic after the screening will be Robert Harris, the leading film-restoration expert who worked on the "Lawrence" print, and Anne Coates, who won the Academy Award for film editing for "Lawrence of Arabia."

Coates, who is British, is in her 80s and still working in the industry; the latest film she worked on was "Taking Lives" (2004) starring Angelina Jolie, according to Kohn. Last year, Coates received the Order of the British Empire for her service to the film industry.

Besides the films at the Virginia, the festival features four academic panels, a speech by Valenti and a workshop by Champaign native Mike Wiese on independent filmmaking. Those six events are free and at the Illini Union.

Also, Ebert was to meet this morning with students in a University of Illinois journalism class.

Ebert, a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic, is a graduate of the UI College of Communications; his festival is a special event of the college.

"The purpose of the festival really is an educational one," said Nancy Casey, executive producer of the festival. "That's why we have six academic events and Roger does an introduction. You learn a lot. It really is an outreach of our College of Communications Media Outreach Program. I hope everybody has a good time."

You can reach Melissa Merli at (217) 351-5367 or via e-mail at mmerli@news-gazette.com.

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