Coming to Ebertfest: Norman Lear

Coming to Ebertfest: Norman Lear

CHAMPAIGN — Norman Lear, whose 1970s sitcoms were major cultural forces, will be a guest at the 19th annual Roger Ebert's Film Festival.

Also coming: the French actress Isabelle Huppert, who was an 2016 Oscar best-actress nominee for the film "Elle," directed by Paul Verhoeven.

That movie will be among the 12 to be screened at Ebertfest, April 19-23 at the Virginia Theatre.

Now 94 years old, the Emmy-winner Lear will be here with "Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You," a 2016 documentary about him. It features interviews with Lear, George Clooney, Jon Stewart, Rob Reiner, Amy Poehler and Phil Rosenthal.

The directors of the Lear documentary, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, also will be guests, as will Brent Miller, producer of the documentary as well as of the Lear sitcom "One Day at a Time." They and Lear will participate in the post-screening question-and-answer session on the Virginia stage.

Chaz Ebert, co-founder, executive producer and emcee of Ebertfest, said Lear was responsible for placing more African-American characters in prime-time network series than any other single person in the history of television.

"His insistence on using comedy to tackle real issues of the day such as racism, abortion and feminism changed the face of television," she said.

Among the shows Lear created were "All in the Family," "Sanford and Son," "One Day at a Time," "The Jeffersons," "Good Times" and "Maude."

Over his long career he won multiple awards, among them a career achievement award from the Television Critics Association and a star on the Walk of Fame.

And Archie Bunker, the lead character in "All in the Family," played by Carroll O'Connor, became a flashpoint in American culture. The name Archie Bunker often was used to refer to a bigot.

"As if Lear's groundbreaking television work wasn't enough," Ebert said, "he also bought one of the original copies of the Declaration of Independence and toured it around the country so that people of all ages and races could touch it and read it and contemplate the principles upon which this country was founded," Ebert said.

Recently, Brent Miller convinced Lear to return to television after a 20-year absence by rebooting and producing "One Day at a Time" for Netflix. The new version has a Latino woman at its center rather than a white woman.

Since her debut in 1971, Huppert has appeared in 100 films and television productions. In France, she received 16 Cesar Award nominations, making her the most nominated actress for the national film award.

She plays the lead in "Elle," a psychological thriller written by David Birke, adapted from the novel "Oh..." by Philippe Djian.

Huppert portrays Michelle, the seemingly indestructible head of a successful video-game company who takes a ruthless approach to business as well as her love life.

Her life changes after she is attacked in her home by an unknown assailant. After she tracks down the man, the two are drawn into a game that at any moment might spiral out of control.

Ebert said the 2017 Ebertfest is dedicated to four principles that are more vital than ever: empathy, compassion, kindness and forgiveness.

"It is these principles, particularly the first one, which Roger believed cinema could generate through the ingenuity of its craft," she said. "That is why I am also dedicating the festival to the Champaign County Alliance for the Promotion of Acceptance, Inclusion and Respect, a group dedicated to challenging preconceived notions about mental illness, addressing discrimination against people with developmental/intellectual disabilities, and assisting people with substance-use disorders. By removing the stigmas associated with one's identity, this organization stands as an indelible force of empathy in society."

More guests, films and the full festival schedule will be released in the coming weeks. Festival passes are $150 each and on sale at the Virginia Theatre box office, 203 Park Ave., C, or by phone at 217-356-9063. A four-pack of passes is $510. A pass for a University of Illinois student is $100.

Individual tickets go on sale starting April 1 at the Virginia. They are $15 for adults and $13 for students and senior citizens.

The academic panel discussions, not yet announced, will be at the Hyatt Place in downtown Champaign rather than the Illini Union on campus. Ebertfest is a special event of the UI College of Media.

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