Nineteenth Ebertfest comes to C-U

Photo by Lindsay Cox | The bronze statue of Roger Ebert is seen outside the Virginia Threatre in downtown Champaign during the 19th Ebertfest.

Photo by Lindsay Cox |
The bronze statue of Roger Ebert is seen outside the Virginia Threatre in downtown Champaign during the 19th Ebertfest.

David Saveanu

Staff Writer

From blocks away, you can hear the sound of people scrambling for tickets—the old Virginia Theater is seeing movie veterans and newcomers return to Ebertfest once more this year.

Roger Ebert’s film festival, Ebertfest, has been a long-time tradition in Champaign, making its debut in 1999 and returning every April since Roger Ebert, renowned Champaign-Urbana-born film critic, started the festival in the town he spent his childhood and college years to celebrate movies.

This year’s fest was yet another success, with a big turnout to watch movies which could otherwise not be seen in the theater.

Directors, actors, producers, etc., came to talk about their films, and connect with their audiences and fans.

Fans waiting outside were excited to begin their cinematic journeys at the five-day festival. Many had been coming since the festival first started, while others were coming for the first time.

Fans raved about two movies primarily.

The first was an American film originally released in 1990 called “To Sleep with Anger,” which is a drama that gained a cult following after its release. It was displayed on Thursday at 4 p.m.

The second was a new German and French film released last year called “Elle,” which was a greatly anticipated film, based on a French novel named “Oh…” by author Phillipe Djian. The film was displayed Friday, April 21 at 8 p.m.

Co-President of Sony, and visitor of Ebertfest for over 15 years, Michael Barker, came to support this “Elle” this year.

“I’m here with Isabelle Hupert, I’m presenting a tribute to her tonight, she was nominated for an Oscar for “Elle” this year,” Barker said.

“It’s great to be here, and I’ve come every year with special guests,” Barker said. “It’s very exciting, you see films on screen that you don’t get to see on the screen anymore and they’re films that deserve to be on the screen because the ultimate experience of appreciating those films is to see them on the big screen.”

Barker’s guest, Hupert, said her experience at the festival was her first.

“It’s wonderful; we just arrived and we’ve seen all these people, cheering and being very happy, it’s really great you feel immediately the love of films and cinema,” Hupert said.

Hupert presented her movie on stage at the festival.

“The people are watching “Elle”, it’s a film I did with Paul Verhoeven [the director], based on a French novel…it’s a very ambitious, [and] personal film; not always easy to understand, to watch and receive, but in the end very rewarding I’d say,” Hupert said. “I’ve heard about this festival for years, and when I was introducing the film on the theater you feel Roger Ebert’s presence, he was a very important man for [the] history of cinema.”

Roger Ebert originally created the festival to give recognition to films that didn’t receive recognition on their original release dates.

The films that are chosen to be displayed on the Virginia Theater screen are often movies reviewed by Roger Ebert himself, but since his death in 2013, it have been a mix between older movies he’s reviewed and newer movies selected by co-founder and current host, Chaz Ebert, along with festival director Nate Kohn. The festival does not take submissions.

The festival is partially put on by the University of Illinois College of Media as well, and has always been held at the Virginia Theater, a historic performing arts center, that is owned by the park district.

The festival relies on volunteers to help put it on every year.

Celebrities often come to pay their respects to Roger Ebert, and the impact he’s had on the world of cinema.

If you missed Ebertfest this year, it returns every year in April. You can find more information about it on the festival’s website, The Virginia theater is also home to many shows, which you can learn more about at