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'My Fair Lady,' a Cape Town Carmen and Valentino headline 'Ebertfest'

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


3/20/2006

scene shot of man looking vulnerable and woman staring off as if in deep thought
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"Friends" star David Schwimmer stars in “Duane Hopwood” (2005), “a wise and realistic portrait” of alcoholism and one of the best independent films of last year, according to Ebert. The title character, played by Schwimmer, is an alcoholic who loves his wife, played by Janeane Garofalo, and children, but is losing everything because of the disease. Writer-director Matt Mulhern will be a guest.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A fair lady, a “really, really bad” Santa, a Carmen from Cape Town, and Rudolph Valentino – they’re all part of the eighth annual Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival, coming April 26-30 to Champaign-Urbana.

Also part of the festival: a global thriller from writer-director David Mamet, “Friends” star David Schwimmer in a portrayal of an alcoholic, and a family matinee about two brothers attempting to dispose of money that fell from the sky.

Marni Nixon, the off-screen singing voice of Audrey Hepburn in “My Fair Lady,” will be on hand when a restored 70mm print of the film is shown to open the festival. As one of Hollywood’s most gifted unseen musical stars, Nixon also sang for Natalie Wood in “West Side Story” and Deborah Kerr in “The King and I.”

Also tentatively scheduled among the festival’s guests are Oscar nominees Amy Adams and John Malkovich.

Twelve screenings are scheduled for “Ebertfest” over five days at the 1,500-seat Virginia Theater, a 1920s-era Champaign movie palace, with other events at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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Photo by Jon Higgins
“Man Push Cart” (2005), a 2006 entry in the Sundance Film Festival, is about the life of a former Pakistani rock star now running a bagel and coffee wagon in Manhattan. Writer-director Ramin Bahrani and the film’s star, Ahmad Razvi, will appear as guests.

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 journalism 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, either by critics, distributors or audiences, or because they come from overlooked genres or formats, such as 70mm.

Guests connected with the selected films are invited to attend, and many appear on stage with Ebert for informal discussions after the screenings.

This year’s schedule of films, with the current lineup of guests:

Wednesday, April 26

7:30 p.m. – “My Fair Lady” (1964), a Lerner and Loewe musical starring Hepburn and Rex Harrison. “What distinguishes ‘My Fair Lady’ is that it actually says something,” according to Ebert. “It says it in a film of pointed words, unforgettable music and glorious images, but it says it.” Nixon will be a guest on stage after the screening.

Thursday, April 27

1 p.m. – “Man Push Cart” (2005), a 2006 entry in the Sundance Film Festival, about the life of a former Pakistani rock star now running a bagel and coffee wagon in Manhattan. Writer-director Ramin Bahrani and the film’s star, Ahmad Razvi, will appear as guests.

black and white scene of a man kneeling in front of a woman while holding her hand
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“The Eagle” (1925), this year’s silent film, is a comedy and romance starring Valentino. The screening of the restored print will be accompanied by the three-man Alloy Orchestra of Cambridge, Mass., making its fifth straight festival appearance.

4 p.m. – “Duane Hopwood” (2005), “a wise and realistic portrait” of alcoholism and one of the best independent films of last year, according to Ebert. The title character, played by Schwimmer, is an alcoholic who loves his wife and children, but is losing everything because of the disease. Writer-director Matt Mulhern will be a guest.

8:30 p.m. – “Spartan” (2004), a global thriller written and directed by Mamet, who is “not only one of the world’s leading playwrights, but a film director of great distinction,” Ebert says. The plot, which deals with the kidnapping of a president’s daughter, is a “a sly, deceptive exercise in the gradual approximation of the truth.” Michael Barker, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics, will be on stage afterward to discuss the Warner Bros. film.


Friday, April 28


1 p.m. – “Somebodies” (2006), a human comedy about the life, friends and eccentric relatives of an African-American college student in Georgia. The film was an entry in the Sundance Film Festival and was co-produced by Nate Kohn, the director of Ebertbest, with his wife, Pam. Both will be guests, along with writer-director Hadjii and one of the stars, Kaira Whitehead.

4 p.m. – “The Eagle” (1925), this year’s silent film, a comedy and romance starring Valentino. The screening of the restored print will be accompanied by the three-man Alloy Orchestra of Cambridge, Mass., making its fifth straight festival appearance.

8 p.m. – “Ripley’s Game” (2002), a thriller in which Tom Ripley, played by Malkovich, persuades a man to commit murder for a large sum. It is the best of all the films inspired by novelist Patricia Highsmith’s amoral villain, says Ebert, and yet it was never released theatrically in the U.S. Malkovich, a two-time Oscar nominee, is tentatively scheduled to appear as a guest, along with Russell Smith, the film’s executive producer.

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Photo by Deon Robertze
"U-Carmen e-Khayelitsha” (2005), a version of Bizet’s opera “Carmen,” was filmed near Cape Town, South Africa, and is sung in Xhosa. The musical was the Golden Bear Winner at the 2005 Berlin International Film Festival and an official selection at the Cannes and Toronto film festivals. Pauline Malefane, above, the South African diva who plays Carmen, will be a guest, along with director Mark Dornford-May.

Saturday, April 29

Noon – “Millions” (2004), “a family film of limitless imagination and surprising joy,” according to Ebert, who had it on his 10-best list for 2005. The plot follows two English brothers as they deal with a windfall of British currency that seemed to fall from the sky, later found to be robbery loot. One boy is a realist, and the other seeks advice from imaginary saints. The film is this year’s free family matinee.

3 p.m. – “Claire Dolan” (1998), about a Manhattan prostitute “whose knowledge of men encompasses everything except how to trust them and find happiness with them,” Ebert says. The film’s director, Lodge Kerrigan, whose films often explore lives on the margin, will be a guest.

7:30 p.m. – “Junebug” (2005), a film about family secrets and eccentricities, and small towns, starring Adams in an Oscar-nominated role. “Of all the performances I saw last year, hers was the most heart-warming,” Ebert says. Adams is tentatively scheduled to appear, along with director Phil Morrison, co-star Scott Wilson, and distributor Michael Barker.

10:30 p.m. – “Bad Santa” (2003), starring Billy Bob Thornton as an alcoholic department store Santa who uses his job as a cover for robberies. The R-rated version of the film shown in theaters was a “demented, twisted, unreasonably funny work,” according to Ebert. Terry Zwigoff, the director, will be bringing his own print of what he calls “Really, Really Bad Santa,” with material not even included in the unrated DVD.

Sunday, April 30

Noon – “U-Carmen e-Khayelitsha” (2005), a version of Bizet’s opera “Carmen” filmed near Cape Town, South Africa, and sung in Xhosa. The musical was the Golden Bear Winner at the 2005 Berlin International Film Festival and an official selection at the Cannes and Toronto film festivals. Pauline Malefane, the South African diva who plays Carmen, will be a guest, along with director Mark Dornford-May.

Other festival events, including panel discussions held on the U. of I. campus, will be announced soon. Updates on the festival will be posted on the festival Web site.

Tickets for individual films will go on sale April 3, 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 on Jan. 20, marking the second year in a row that passes were 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.