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Bollywood, The Phantom and French masterpiece headline 'Ebertfest'

Craig Chamberlain, News Editor
217-333-2894; cdchambe@illinois.edu

3/17/2005

"The Phantom of the Opera"
Click photo to enlarge
One of the most grotesque movie faces will come in this year’s silent feature, “The Phantom of the Opera” (1925), featuring Lon Chaney as the Phantom. Accompanying the film will be the three-man Alloy Orchestra of Cambridge, Mass., making its fourth straight festival appearance.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The faces on the big screen will range from the glamorous to the grotesque, speaking English, French, Hindi and Zulu. The music will run from “the saddest in the world” to extravagant song and dance.

Mixed among a dozen films, from 1925 to 2005, will be horror, love stories, wheelchair rugby, a kidnap scheme, a time machine, and the magical and mysterious. Numerous actors, directors, producers and critics will be on hand as guests, among them Jason Patric, Mario Van Peebles and John Sayles.

It’s the seventh annual Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival, of course, coming April 20-24 to a 1,500-seat movie palace in Champaign, Ill., and to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

As usual, the festival will open on Wednesday evening with a 70mm feature. This year it’s a recently restored print of “Playtime,” by French director and actor Jacques Tati. The film is “one of a kind,” Ebert says, and directly inspired the recent Stephen Spielberg movie “The Terminal.” The 1967 film was the most expensive French film up to that time, requiring an enormous set complete with an airline terminal, city streets and high-rise buildings.

Following “Ebertfest” tradition, the event will end on Sunday afternoon with a musical, and this year’s entry comes from India, home to the Bombay-based “Bollywood,” the world’s most prolific movie-making center. “Taal,” released in 1999, is “a glorious Bollywood extravaganza,” Ebert said, featuring an actress many have called “the most beautiful woman in the world.”

One of the most grotesque movie faces will come in this year’s silent feature, “The Phantom of the Opera” (1925), featuring Lon Chaney as the Phantom. Accompanying the film will be the three-man Alloy Orchestra of Cambridge, Mass., making its fourth straight festival appearance.

Ebert is a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and co-hosts “Ebert & Roeper and the Movies,” a weekly televised movie-review program. He also is a 1964 Illinois journalism graduate and U. of I. adjunct professor.

The festival is a special event of the College of Communications at Illinois.

Ebert selects films for the festival that he feels have been overlooked in some way, generally by critics, distributors or audiences. Guests connected with the selected films are invited to attend, and many appear on stage with Ebert for informal discussions after the screenings.

Isabella Rossellini
Click photo to enlarge
Isabella Rossellini stars in “The Saddest Music in the World” (2003), by the famed Canadian independent filmmaker Guy Maddin, whose comedy, in the form of a 1930s documentary, is about a Winnepeg contest to find the saddest song of all.

Twelve screenings are scheduled over five days at the Virginia Theater, a 1920s-era Champaign movie palace, with other events on the Illinois campus. Twelve features and documentaries will be shown, along with one short subject.

This year’s schedule of films, as described by Ebert, and the lineup of guests:

Wednesday, April 20
7:30 p.m. – “Playtime” (1967), directed by Jacques Tati. The movie features Tati’s famous character Mr. Hulot bemused and bewildered by a series of modern architectural spaces. Appearing as a guest will be Chicago Reader film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, who considers “Playtime” perhaps the greatest film ever made.

Thursday, April 21
1 p.m. – “Murderball” (2005), a documentary about full-contact wheelchair rugby, especially appropriate for the Illinois campus, one of the birthplaces of wheelchair sports. The film won the Audience Award for best documentary at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Appearing as guests will be star player Mark Zupan, famed coach Joe Soares, directors Dana Adam Shapiro and Henry Alex Rubin, and producer Jeff Mandel.

4:30 p.m. – “The Saddest Music in the World” (2003), by the famed Canadian independent filmmaker Guy Maddin, whose comedy, in the form of a 1930s documentary, is about a Winnepeg contest to find the saddest song of all. Presiding is a glass-legged beer baroness, played by Isabella Rossellini, who invites musicians from all over the world. Also on the program is Maddin’s “The Heart of the World” (2000), arguably the most-hailed short subject film of the last five years. Maddin will be a guest.

9 p.m. – “After Dark, My Sweet” (1990), a moody film noir directed by James Foley and starring Jason Patric, Rachel Ward and Bruce Dern as three loners who conspire in a foolhardy kidnap scheme. Patric will be a guest.

Friday, April 22
1 p.m. – “Yesterday” (2004), one of this year’s Academy Award nominees for best foreign film, and the first feature film in the Zulu language. A beautiful and deeply moving film, it stars Leleti Khumalo as a village woman whose husband works in the mines of Johannesburg while she raises their young daughter. Guests will be producer Anant Singh and director Darrell Roodt, longtime colleagues and pioneers of the independent South African film movement, along with Khumalo if her filming schedule permits.

4:30 p.m. – “The Phantom of the Opera” (1925), the silent classic starring Lon Chaney, “the Man of 1,000 Faces,” who keeps his well-hidden for most of the film. Live in the orchestra pit will be the Alloy Orchestra, performing their original score for the film.

8:30 p.m. – “Baadasssss!” (2004), the story of how Melvin Van Peebles’ 1969 film “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” gave a crucial impetus to the independent black film movement. His son Mario Van Peebles, who directed the film and stars as his father, will be a guest.

Saturday, April 23
Noon – “The Secret of Roan Inish” (1994), by John Sayles, a hero of the independent film movement. Filmed in Donegal, Ireland, it tells the story of a 10-year old who learns the local legend of Selkies, who are sometimes human and sometimes seals. The film is this year’s free family matinee, and guests will be Sayles and his producer throughout his career, Maggie Renzi.

3 p.m. – “Primer” (2004), a brilliant sci-fi film about techheads who construct a device in the garage that turns out to be a time machine. The movie’s charm is its ability to observe its heroes combining cybertheory with venture capitalism. Made for a reported $7,000, but looking professional and accomplished, the film won the 2004 Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. Shane Carruth, the writer, director and star, will be a guest.

6:30 p.m. – “Map of the Human Heart” (1993), Vincent Ward’s visionary romance about a love between a young Eskimo boy and an Indian girl he meets in a Montreal hospital. Jason Scott Lee and Anna Parillaud star in a story that takes them, when they are adults, from Canada to the center of World War II. Invitations are pending with Ward and Lee.

9:30 p.m. – “Me and You and Everyone We Know” (2005), about a would-be artist who falls in love with a shoe salesman. An original and complex story about the mysteries of sex and the enchantments of the heart, it was Ebert’s favorite feature at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Miranda July, a performance artist who wrote, directed and stars in the film, will be a guest.

Sunday, April 24
Noon – “Taal” (1999), a Bollywood musical starring “Miss Bollywood,” Aishwarya Rai, as a singer who falls in love with the son of a rich neighbor – until his parents insult hers, and she seems about to marry a famous music video director. Guests will be Subhash Ghai, the director, and Uma da Cunha, publisher of a Mumbai trade journal and an expert on Indian films.

The festival also will offer free panel discussions on film-related topics, including one with Ebert and visiting filmmakers at 10 a.m. Thursday, and one on women in film at 10 a.m. Friday, moderated by Andrea Press, a professor in the Institute of Communications Research at Illinois.

At 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Ebert will hold a one-on-one discussion with Jean Picker Firstenberg, the director of the American Film Institute. All three discussions will be held in the Pine Lounge of the Illini Union, 1401 W. Green St., Urbana.

Updates on the festival will be posted on the festival Web site: www.ebertfest.com.

Tickets for individual films will go on sale April 1, at $9 each, through the theater box office; phone: 217-356-9063; fax: 217-356-5729.

The 1,000 festival passes, covering all 12 screenings, were sold out last month, marking the first time the passes have sold out before the films were announced.

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