Ebertfest director ready to let 'Hair' down in C-U

Ebertfest director ready to let 'Hair' down in C-U

CHAMPAIGN — Though he lives nearly 700 miles away in Athens, Ga., where he serves as a professor at the University of Georgia, Nate Kohn has served as the director of Roger Ebert's Film Festival every year since its inception in 1999. And one of his favorite parts about attending the annual event is the chance for the Urbana and University of Illinois graduate to return to his old stomping grounds.

"I enjoy coming back and seeing all the changes. It's basically coming home for me," Kohn said. "I like to drive through the part of Urbana I grew up in, which is around Carle Park."

Kohn will get the chance to take in the hometown sights again this week, as he touched down on Tuesday evening to direct his 19th Ebertfest, being staged today through Sunday at the Virginia Theatre. This will be the fifth festival staged following the death of the event's namesake in 2013, but Kohn is pleased that it's still going strong.

"We're really happy that our audiences have stuck with the festival," he said. "A lot of guests who come think we have the best audience in the world, and I think they're right."

The format and general style of the festival won't be much different than the previous 18 installments, Kohn said, as attendees can expect to view 14 films and hear panel discussions from a variety of guests including actors, producers and directors.

One film in particular that Kohn is looking forward to seeing at this week's Ebertfest is "Hair," the movie based off the hit 1960s Broadway musical.

"It's going to be on our opening night and we're showing a brand-new 35 mm print of the film," Kohn said. "Michael Butler, the original producer of 'Hair' on Broadway and the movie, is going to be with us and I'm really excited about that."

Kohn says he hasn't seen "Hair" since it was released in theaters in 1979, which will add to the experience of watching at the Virginia for him. First assistant director of "Hair," Michael Hausman, will also be in attendance to speak about the film. The movie deals with various issues including race, class and the division in the United States as a result of the Vietnam war.

"Very few people have seen it," Kohn said. "It deals with issues that took place in the 1960s, so it'll be interesting to see how it plays with an audience today. It's about peace and love and basically an anti-war statement."