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Ebert film fest to feature poetry, romance, murder, award-winning guests

“My Dog Tulip” the animated story of a “curmudgeon and a canine,” based on a memoir of the same title by British author J.R. Ackerley, will be shown at 3:30 p.m. April 28.

“My Dog Tulip” the animated story of a “curmudgeon and a canine,” based on a memoir of the same title by British author J.R. Ackerley, will be shown at 3:30 p.m. April 28.

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3/17/2011 | Craig Chamberlain, Social Sciences Editor | 217-333-2894;

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A restored silent classic, “Metropolis,” will open the 13th annual Roger Ebert’s Film Festival or “Ebertfest,” coming April 27 to May 1 to Champaign-Urbana. A documentary about Chicago’s “Louder Than a Bomb” youth poetry slam will close it.

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"Tiny Furniture," written and directed by Lena Dunham, who also plays the lead, will be shown at 8 p.m. April 28.

In between will be fools in love, as well as adulterous love; Orson Welles and his ego; murder mixed with philosophy, and two different stories in different forms about an old man and his dog. Also: seven months in the life of a small Midwestern town; a post-college story staged in the director’s childhood apartment, with her mother and sister in leading roles; and two stories from Africa, one about AIDS and family strife, the other about a “small act” of kindness with big results.

Among the guests on hand will be Oscar-winning actress Tilda Swinton, three-time Oscar-nominated director Norman Jewison (“Moonstruck,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “In the Heat of the Night”), and director/actor Tim Blake Nelson, perhaps best known for his role as one of three escaped convicts in “O Brother, Where Art Thou.”

The opening film, “Metropolis,” has been screened before at the festival, in 2002, but it was missing crucial sections, muddling parts of the story.  Thanks to a print of the film discovered in 2008 in Buenos Aires, about 30 minutes of material has been added and the entire film has been restored.

Now, according to Ebert in a 2010 review, “it stands before us as more or less the film that Fritz Lang originally made in 1927.” The film about human despair in a futuristic city featured visual images that were “astonishing for its time,” Ebert said, inspiring aspects of numerous science fiction films that followed.

Coming with a new score to accompany the restored film will be the three-man Alloy Orchestra, of Cambridge, Mass., which has accompanied numerous silent films at past festivals, including the previous screening of “Metropolis.”

This year’s schedule of films, with the current lineup of guests (Ebert’s comments are from past reviews):

Wednesday, April 27
7 p.m. – “Metropolis” (2010 restoration of 1927 original), accompanied by the Alloy Orchestra.

Thursday, April 28
1 p.m. – “Umberto D” (1952), the story of an old-age Italian pensioner and his dog, and of the man’s struggle “to keep from falling from poverty into shame,” according to Ebert. “Told without false drama,” it may be the best of the Italian neorealist films, produced in the 1940s and ‘50s, Ebert said.

3:30 p.m. – “My Dog Tulip” (2010), the animated story of a “curmudgeon and a canine,” based on a memoir of the same title by British author J.R. Ackerley. Told from an “adult sensibility,” said Ebert, it’s voiced by actors Christopher Plummer, Lynn Redgrave and Isabella Rossellini. The directors/animators Paul and Sandra Fierlinger will be guests.

8 p.m. – “Tiny Furniture” (2010), a droll comedy about a woman in a “post-graduate delirium,” living with her mother and sister in lower Manhattan. Writer/director Lena Dunham plays the lead role, with her real mother and sister playing her mother and sister. “I have no idea if they’re playing themselves, but they’re certainly convincing,” Ebert said. Producer Kyle Martin and actors David Call and Alex Karposky will be guests. 

Friday, April 29
1 p.m. – “45365” (2010), an “achingly beautiful film,” according to Ebert, about daily life in Sidney, Ohio (45365 is the ZIP code), filmed by two brothers who were born there. Comparing aspects of Sidney with his own upbringing in Urbana, Ill., Ebert said he “could go (there) tomorrow and feel right at home.” Directors Bill and Turner Ross will be guests.

4 p.m. – “Me and Orson Welles” (2009), the story of a young would-be actor cast in a staging of “Julius Caesar” directed by the famously multitalented and multitasking Welles. Ebert called it “one of the best movies about the theater I’ve ever seen,” and one that relishes in the resentments many felt for “the Great Man.” Zac Efron and Claire Danes star, with Christian McKay playing Welles. Director Richard Linklater will be a guest.

8:30 p.m. – “Only You” (1994), a lighthearted romance starring Marisa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr., filmed in stunning locations throughout Italy. Reminiscent of films made decades earlier, it is “light as a feather, contrary to all notions of common sense … but we don’t mind because it’s fun,” Ebert said. Director Norman Jewison will be a guest.

Saturday, April 30
11 a.m. – “A Small Act” (2010), a “heartwarming documentary,” said Ebert, about a Swedish woman, Hilde Back, and the Kenyan child whose education she paid for through high school with $15 a month. That child, Chris Mburu, would attend Harvard Law School, become a United Nations human rights commissioner, and start a scholarship foundation in Back’s name. Producer Patti Lee, director Jennifer Arnold, and Back will be guests.

(Those attending should note that the Illinois Marathon is being run that morning. Check for special route and parking directions to avoid delays in reaching the theater.)

2 p.m. – “Life, Above All” (2010), another story from Africa, though fictional, that centers on a 12-year-old South African girl attempting to hold her family together after a tragedy, and through poisonous gossip about AIDS. “The film is about deep human emotions, evoked with sympathy and love,” Ebert said. Producer Oliver Stoltz, actor Khomotso Manyaka, and distributor Michael Barker will be guests.

6:30 p.m. – “Leaves of Grass” (2010), a film about “drugs, murder and brotherly love” that Ebert called “some kind of sweet, wacky masterpiece” and “the most intelligent, philosophical and poetic film I can imagine that involves five murders.” Edward Norton stars, playing very different twin brothers, along with Keri Russell, Susan Sarandon, Richard Dreyfuss and Tim Blake Nelson, the film’s writer/director, who will be a guest.

9:30 p.m. – “I Am Love” (2010), a “deep, rich, human” film, according to Ebert, about a Russian woman, played by Tilda Swinton, who has married into an aristocratic family in Milan, Italy, but then finds passion with a younger man. Swinton, who will be a guest, “is a daring actress who doesn’t project emotions so much as embody them,” Ebert said.

Sunday, May 1
Noon – “Louder Than a Bomb” (2010), a documentary that follows the stories of four teams of teenagers participating in Chicago’s youth poetry slam of the same name, claimed to be the world’s largest. The performances are “inspiring and electrifying,” Ebert said, coming from “real performers with real feelings and important things to say.” Guests for the screening will include directors Jon Siskel (nephew of the late Gene Siskel, Ebert’s longtime television partner) and Greg Jacobs, producer Kevin Coval, and five students from the film who will perform.
(Following the festival, at 4:30 p.m., will be another screening of the film, this one free and followed by a panel discussion, presented by the Champaign County Anti-Stigma Alliance.)
The schedule also can be found at, complete with Ebert’s reviews and links to film websites.

The 12 screenings for Ebertfest will take place at the 1,500-seat Virginia Theater, a 1920s-era Champaign movie palace, with other events (to be announced later) at the University of Illinois. The festival is an event of the College of Media at Illinois. Partial support is provided by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Champaign County Anti-Stigma Alliance.

Ebert is a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and co-hosted “Ebert & Roeper,” a weekly televised movie-review program, until 2006. He returned to television this year with "Ebert Presents at the Movies," which is co-hosted by critics Christy Lemire and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, but also features reviews by Ebert.

Ebert also is a 1964 Illinois journalism graduate and adjunct journalism professor.

Ebert selects films for the festival that he feels have been overlooked in some way, either by critics, distributors or audiences, or because they come from overlooked genres or formats, such as documentaries. (The festival previously was titled “Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival,” but was renamed in 2008.)

Guests connected with the selected films are invited to attend, and many appear on stage for informal Q-and-A sessions after the screenings. Also attending and participating in some discussions will be members of Ebert’s “far flung correspondents,” a group of film commentators from all over the world who regularly contribute to his online journal.

As in recent festivals, Ebert’s wife, Chaz, will act as the emcee. Ebert, unable to speak as a result of throat cancer and related surgery over recent years, said he once again plans to play a role through his “computer voice.”

Other festival events, including panel discussions held on the U. of I. campus, will be announced on

Also available on the Web site will be live streaming of the panel discussions and the post-film Q-and-A sessions at the Virginia Theater.

Tickets for individual films will go on sale beginning at noon April 4 through the theater box office (phone 217-356-9063; fax: 217-356-5729) and online through the theater website. The price will be $13 each for regular admission and $11 each for students and senior citizens. Sales will be limited to four per person.

The 1,000 festival passes, covering all festival screenings, went on sale in November and sold out.

Even if tickets for individual films are sold out, entrance can usually be obtained by waiting in a rush line that forms outside the theater prior to each screening.

Those seeking additional information and updates on films, guests and festival events should contact Mary Susan Britt, at 217-244-0552 or, or festival director Nate Kohn, at 706-542-4972 or

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