The stars come out at Ebertfest

The stars come out at Ebertfest

CHAMPAIGN – Roger Ebert will open his seventh annual Overlooked Film Festival with a 70-mm French comedy by Jacques Tati and close it with a Bollywood musical starring an actress considered "the most beautiful woman in the world."

His festival, a special event of the University of Illinois College of Communications that runs from April 20 through 24, will showcase overlooked films, formats and genres and feature 12 films altogether, screened at the vintage Virginia Theatre in downtown Champaign. The free panel discussions take place at the Illini Union on the UI campus.

All 1,000 festival passes have already been sold. Tickets to the individual movies will go on sale starting April 1 at the Virginia. Further festival updates will be posted at www.ebertfest.com. Reviews of most of the films that Ebert selected for his festival may be found at www.rogerebert.com, which includes longer essays from the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic's "Great Movies" books on such films as "After Dark, My Sweet," "Phantom of the Opera" and "Playtime."

Ebert also has announced many of the guests who will attend the festival – they include actor/director Mario van Peebles, director John Sayles and actor Jason Patric – and said some invitations are pending.

The 12 selections for this year's festival, in alphabetical order, with descriptions written by Ebert himself, follow:

– "After Dark, My Sweet" (1990), a moody film noir directed by James Foley and starring Jason Patric, Rachel Ward and Bruce Dern as three loners who conspire in a foolhardy kidnap scheme. Patric will appear in person.

– "Baadassss" (2004), the story of how Melvin Van Peebles' 1969 film "Sweet Sweetback's Baadassss Song" gave a crucial impetus to the independent black film movement. His son Mario van Peebles, who directed the film and stars as his own father, will appear in person.

– "Map of the Human Heart" (1993), Vincent Ward's visionary romance about a love between a young Eskimo boy and an Indian girl he meets in a Montreal hospital. Jason Scott Lee and Anna Parillaud star in a story that takes them, when they are adults, from Canada to the center of World War II. Invitations are pending with Ward and Lee.

– "Me and You and Everyone We Know," Ebert's favorite feature at Sundance2005, starring Miranda July as a would-be artist who falls in love with a shoe salesman (John Hawkes). That hardly suggests the originality and complexity of the story, which is about the mysteries of sex and the enchantments of the heart. Miranda July, a performance artist who also wrote and directed, will appear in person.

– "Murderball," winner of the audience award for best documentary at Sundance 2005, is about the sport of full-contact wheelchair rugby and is especially appropriate for the UI Urbana-Champaign campus, one of the birthplaces of wheelchair sports. In person: star player Mark Zupan, famed coach Joe Soares, directors Dana Adam Shapiro and Henry Alex Rubin, and producer Jeff Mandel.

– "Phantom of the Opera," the 1925 silent classic starring Lon Chaney, "the man of 1,000 faces," who keeps his well-hidden for most of the film. Live in the orchestra pit, The Alloy Orchestra of Cambridge, Mass, will perform their original score for the film.

– "Playtime" (1967), by French director/actor Jacques Tati. A recently restored 70mm print will continue the Overlooked Film Festival custom of opening with a 70mm film. The movie, which features Tati's famous Mr. Hulot bemused and bewildered by a series of modern architectural spaces, was Steven Spielberg's inspiration for his comedy "Terminal." In person: Chicago Reader critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, who considers "Playtime" perhaps the greatest film ever made.

– "Primer' (2004), a brilliant sci-fi film about techheads who construct a device in the garage that turns out to be a time machine.The movie's charm is its ability to observe its heroes combining cybertheory with venture capitalism. Made for a reported $7,000 but looking professional and accomplished, the film won the 2004 Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. In person: The writer, director and star, Shane Carruth.

– "The Saddest Music in the World" (2003), by the famed Canadian independent filmmaker Guy Maddin, whose comedy, in the form of a 1930s documentary, is about a Winnepeg contest to find the saddest song of all. Presiding is Isabella Rossellini, a glass-legged beer baroness who invites musicians from all over the world. Also on the program: Maddin's "The Heart of the World" (2000), arguably the most-hailed short subject of the last five years. In person: Guy Maddin.

– "The Secret of Roan Inish" (1994), by John Sayles, a hero of the independent film movement, will be our free family matinee on Saturday. Photographed in Donegal, Ireland, by former festival guest Haskell Wexler, the film tells of a 10-year-old who learns the local legend of Selkies, who are sometimes human, sometimes seals. In person: John Sayles and his producer throughout his career, Maggie Renzi.

– "Taal" (1999), a glorious Bollywood extravaganza, will be the Sunday matinee musical. The film stars "Miss Bollywood," Aishwarya Rai, often called the most beautiful woman in the world, as a singer who falls in love with the son of a rich neighbor – until his parents insult hers, and she seems about to marry a famous music video director. In person: The director, Subhash Ghai, and Uma da Cunha, publisher of a Mumbai trade journal and expert on Indian films.

– "Yesterday," one of this year's Academy Award nominees for best foreign film, and the first feature shot in the Zulu language. A beautiful and deeply moving film, it stars Leleti Khumala ("Sarafina!," "Cry, the Beloved Country," "Hotel Rwanda") as a village woman whose husband works in the mines of Johannesburg while she raises their young daughter. In person: Two pioneers of the independent South African film movement, producer Anant Singh and his longtime colleague, director Darrell Roodt. Miss Khumala will attend if her filming schedule permits.

Among the free panel discussions will be one at 10 a.m. April 21 that will be led by Ebert and feature visiting filmmakers. At 10 a.m. April 22, Professor Andrea Press of the UI Institute of Communications Research will chair a panel on "Women in Film." At 9:30 a.m. April 23, Ebert will have a discussion with festival special guest Jean Picker Firstenberg, director of the American Film Institute.

All guest film artists will receive the Golden Thumb Award, which also will be given to Firstenberg, Brenda Sexton of the Illinois Film Office, Rosenbaum, Gerson and Uma da Cunha, Roger and Joanne Plummer, and Betsy Hendrick.

The festival films are selected by Ebert, who receives "invaluable advice and counsel" from University of Georgia Professor Nate Kohn, festival director and an Urbana native, as is Ebert. Ebert calls his wife, Chaz Hammelsmith Ebert, special adviser.

The festival's executive producer is Nancy Casey; assistant director is Mary Susan Britt; and manager is Nickie Dalton.

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