'Hair,' Holdsclaw among headliners of Ebertfest 19

'Hair,' Holdsclaw among headliners of Ebertfest 19

CHAMPAIGN — The 19th annual Roger Ebert’s Film Festival will open April 19 with the 1979 musical “Hair” directed by Milos Forman, with a 35mm new print on loan from Michael Moore and the UCLA Film Archive.

Forman, now 85, won’t be coming but his assistant director for “Hair” will be here as part of the post-screening discussion on the Virginia Theatre stage.

The festival organizers today also announced four other films and guests:

— “To Sleep with Anger,” directed by Charles Burnett, with him as guest and director Robert Townsend on stage to lead the post-screening Q-and-A.

— “Mind/Game: The Unquiet Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw,” directed by Rick Goldsmith, with him and Holdsclaw, once hailed as the female Michael Jordan of basketball, as guests.

— “Hysteria,” directed by Tanya Wexler, with her and actor Hugh Dancy as guests.

— “Variete,” a 1925 silent film directed by Ewald Andre Dupont, with live musical accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra.

Announced previously were the films “Elle,” with star/Oscar nominee Isabelle Huppert to be here in person, and “Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You,” a documentary about the television legend, with Lear in attendance.

The remaining selections for the 12-movie lineup and more festival guests will be announced later this month or in early April.

The festival will run April 19-23 at the Virginia Theatre, with academic panels for the first time at Hyatt Place in downtown Champaign, a block or two from the theater.

Chaz Ebert, the festival co-founder, executive producer and host, said that before her late husband, Roger, died on April 4, 2013, he carefully chose the films for Ebertfest for that year and uncharacteristically even dictated the order in which they were to be shown.

“I can tell you without reservation that he would be overjoyed at this lineup of films and talent, especially in this chaotic world in which we find ourselves,” she said. “We will celebrate so many things at the festival but especially the humanity that we will find on the screen and in each other.”

Here’s more on each of the five movies announced today:

— “Hair) (1979) will be followed by a Q-and-A with Michael Hausman, who was the assistant director on the film.

Director Forman, who also directed “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” “Amadeus” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” was a victim of a death hoax earlier this month.

His critically acclaimed “Hair” is an adaptation of the provocative Broadway musical of the same title that explores the hippie movement of the late 1960s.

The film focuses on Claude, a Midwestern farm boy who travels to New York to join the Army and fight in the Vietnam War. However, while in Central Park he meets a group of hippies and discovers the ideals of freedom, drugs and his first love, Sheila. Roger Ebert gave “Hair” a four-star review.

“I walked into ‘Hair’ with the gravest doubts that this artifact of 1960s social shock would transfer to our current, sleepier times,” he wrote. “In the 1960s we went to angry musicals; now we line up for ‘La Cage aux Folles.’

“My doubts disappeared with the surge and bold authority of the first musical statement: This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius! So maybe it isn’t, really, and maybe the sun set on that particular age back around the time they pinched the Watergate burglars.

“But Milos Forman’s ‘Hair’ opens with such confidence and joy, moves so swiftly and sustains itself so well that I wonder why I had any doubts. ‘Hair’ is, amazingly, not a period piece but a freshly conceived and staged memory of the tribulations of the mid-sixties.”

— “To Sleep with Anger” (1990) stars Danny Glover and Mary Alice in the story of a middle-class black family in Los Angeles whose life is disturbed by the arrival of an old friend from the South. What starts out as a charming reminder of their past becomes threatening as the strained household heads towards an inevitable conflict.

Movie critic Chuck Bowen calls “To Sleep with Anger” “another neglected masterpiece of African-American cinema, along with ‘Nothing But a Man,’ ‘Ganja & Hess,’ ‘Losing Ground,’ ‘Daughters of the Dust’ and others that have been restored and re-released in a limited handful of theaters over the last few years.”

Bowen gave the movie four stars, writing that “Burnett sketches the details of the lives of Gideon and his family, bridging theatrical dialogue, portentous omens and presentational acting with a grace that’s so masterful as to appear effortless, capturing enough life and subtext for several films.”

— “Mind/Game: The Unquiet Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw” (2015) 

Recruited from the rough-edged courts of New York City by Coach Pat Summitt for the University of Tennessee’s Lady Vols, Holdsclaw impressed crowds with her artistry, athleticism and drive. A three-time NCAA champ and No. 1 draft pick in the WNBA, Holdsclaw seemed destined for a spectacular professional career — until her long-suppressed battle with mental disorders emerged to derail her career and threaten her life.

The documentary chronicles her athletic accomplishments and personal setbacks, and her decision, despite public stigma, to become an outspoken mental-health advocate. Still, she would face dramatic, unexpected challenges to her own recovery. The film, narrated by Glenn Close, tells a story of courage, struggle and redemption.

In his review, Matt Fagerholm called “Mind/Game” “an inspiring portrait of an extraordinary female warrior” and wrote, “The open-ended quality of the film’s ending is entirely appropriate since Ms. Holdsclaw’s story is far from over. I cannot wait for the sequel.”

The screening is sponsored by the local Alliance for Inclusion and Respect, an organization that embodies the four principles this year’s EbertFest is dedicated to — empathy, compassion, kindness and forgiveness — principles that Roger Ebert believed cinema could generate.

— “Hysteria” (2011) Starring Academy Award-nominees Maggie Gyllenhaal and Hugh Dancy, the movie is a romantic comedy that tells the surprising story of the birth of the electro-mechanical vibrator at the peak of Victorian prudishness.

Roger Ebert gave the movie three stars, writing, “Tanya Wexler’s quietly saucy ‘Hysteria’ takes place in London at a time when medical authorities didn’t know the word for or the concept of ‘orgasm,’ and apparently many women never experienced them. His treatments consisted of modestly covering a patient’s private regions with a little tent, reaching delicately beneath it and using digital stimulation to effect a cure. How he hit upon this method must be attributed to sheer genius.

“One of the pleasures of Wexler’s third feature is how elegantly it sets its story in the period. The costumes, the sets, the locations and the behavior are all flawless, and the British characters in the screenplay by Stephen Dyer and Jonah Lisa Dyer are all masters of never quite saying what they mean.”

— "Variete" (1925) The silent German film full of jealousy, obsession and murder is set against the backdrop of the circus. The film is based on the novel “Der Eid des Stephan Huller” by Felix Hollaender.

Critic Richard Neupert believes “Variete” remains director Dupont’s most fascinating work, in which he offers “a splendid example of both German and European film style of the mid-1920s.”

“Dupont is now considered one of the great cinematic figures of the 1920s, helping usher in the era of the European auteur-director,” Neupert wrote.

Ebertfest is a special event of Roger Ebert’s alma mater, the University of Illinois College of Media. Each year major filmmakers, stars, historians, critics and film-lovers from all over the world come to experience the annual celebration that includes films from lists Roger Ebert drew up over the first 15 years of the festival, as well as others selected by Chaz Ebert and Festival Director Nate Kohn, based on the late film critic’s established criteria.

Festival passes remain available for $150, plus processing. Festival assistant director Casey Ludwig said there was an uptick in sales after the Lear and Huppert movies were announced but passes remain.

For the first time, festival-goers receive a discount when they purchase a four-pack priced at $510 instead of $600, for 15 percent off. Additionally, a small number of UI student passes will be made available for $100 each. Tickets for individual movies will be available April 1 and are $15 for adults and $13 for students and senior citizens.

All passes and tickets may be purchased through ebertfest.com, thevirginia.org or at the Virginia box office, 203 W. Park Ave., C, or by calling the theater at 217-356-9063.

For additional information, visit ebertfest.com.


Topics (2):Film, Theater