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Oscar-winning alumnus Ang Lee, 'Sopranos' Stars to be guests at 10th 'Eberfest'


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Kenneth Branagh's "Hamlet" will be presented in 70mm to open the 10th "Ebertfest."

Craig Chamberlain, Education Editor

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Oscar-winning director and University of Illinois alumnus Ang Lee will be among the featured guests for the 10th annual Roger Ebert’s Film Festival, otherwise known as “Ebertfest,” coming April 23-27 to Champaign and the U. of I. campus.

Other guests scheduled to attend include 10 other directors of festival films, as well as actor Joey Pantoliano and actress Aida Turturro, both known for their roles on “The Sopranos” television series, and actress Christine Lahti, known for her role on the series “Chicago Hope.”

Among the 13 features and one short scheduled for this year’s festival are Kenneth Branagh’s “Hamlet,” in 70mm, which will open the festival; a musical from John Turturro, set in working-class New York, which will close the festival, and a documentary on the life of an oddball Illinois farmer and his now-thriving organic farm.

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Joe Pantoliano, left, is expected to attend the screening of "Canvas."

Other films on the schedule feature Steve Buscemi as a paparazzo; Joan Allen in a cross-cultural affair; Jennifer Lopez and Vince Vaughn in a science fiction thriller that mixes mind games with serial murder; and Marcia Gay Harden in a portrayal of schizophrenia.

Continuing tradition, the festival will once again offer a silent film – accompanied, for the sixth time, by the three-man Alloy Orchestra of Cambridge, Mass. This year’s feature is “Underworld,” a gangster film from 1927 – at the end of the silent era.

Breaking with tradition, the festival will not include a free family matinee on Saturday. That spot is filled this year by Lee’s “Hulk,” a PG-13 sci-fi action film that Ebert describes as a “comic-book movie for people who wouldn’t be caught dead at a comic-book movie.”

Rounding out the schedule are stories of a family feud in rural Arkansas, an eccentric aunt caring for orphaned nieces in the Pacific Northwest, an unconventional biopic about a Japanese author, and an unplanned meeting of Arabs and Israelis in a lonely desert town.

The 13 screenings will take place at the 1,500-seat Virginia Theater, a 1920s-era Champaign movie palace, with other events at the U. of I. The festival is a special event of the College of Media, the new name of the College of Communications at Illinois.

"Romance and Cigarettes"
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Susan Sarandon is among the stars of the musical "Romance and Cigarettes."

Ebert is a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and co-hosts “Ebert & Roeper,” a weekly televised movie-review program. He also is a 1964 Illinois journalism graduate and U. of I. 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 was previously titled “Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival,” but was renamed this year since the festival itself is no longer overlooked, according to Ebert.)

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

Prior to last year’s festival, those discussions were always with Ebert, who also introduced each film. As the result of throat cancer surgery and related health issues, he had to pass those duties last year to his wife, Chaz, and festival director Nate Kohn.

Chaz Ebert and Kohn will again share those onstage roles this year, but Ebert will play a larger role with the help of assistive technology, according to festival organizers.

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Steve Buscemi, right, is a paparazzo in search of “that one big picture” in "Delirious."

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

Wednesday, April 23
7 p.m. – “Hamlet” (1996), the only uncut, full-length film of Shakespeare’s masterpiece, with Branagh, the director, in the title role. It also stars Derek Jacobi, Julie Christie, Charlton Heston and Kate Winslet. At nearly four hours, it is “long but not slow, deep but not difficult, and it vibrates with the relief of actors who have great things to say, and the right ways to say them,” according to Ebert.

Thursday, April 24
1 p.m. – “Delirious” (2006), starring Buscemi as a paparazzo in search of “that one big picture.” He plays the character with sympathy rather than disdain, Ebert says. The movie has a “knowledge of overnight celebrities and those who feed on them, and insights into the self-contempt of the feeders.” Writer-director Tom Dicillo will be a guest.

4 p.m. – “Yes” (2004), an “artistically mannered and overtly political” film that centers on an affair between an elegant Irish-American woman (Allen) and a Lebanese waiter who was once a surgeon. The dialogue is written in iambic pentameter, the rhythm scheme of Shakespeare, but “the characters never sound as if they’re reciting poetry,” Ebert says. Writer-director Sally Potter and producer Christopher Sheppard are tentatively scheduled as guests.

8:30 p.m. – “Canvas” (2006), a serious and heartwarming film about a family coping with a mother who is schizophrenic, influenced by writer-director Joseph Greco’s own childhood. The portrayal of schizophrenia “has been praised by mental health experts as unusually accurate and sympathetic,” according to Ebert. Greco will be a guest, along with producers Adam and Lucy Hammel, and Pantoliano, who plays the loving, stressed father. (The feature will be preceded by “Citizen Cohl: The Untold Story,” a short film tribute to Dusty Cohl, the recently deceased co-founder of the Toronto International Film Festival, with director Barry Avrich as a guest.)

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The 1927 silent movie "Underworld" will be shown at 2:30 p.m. April 25.

Friday, April 25
11:30 a.m. – “Shotgun Stories” (2007), about a feud between two sets of
half-brothers in rural Arkansas in the wake of the father’s funeral. The film is “a hard, unforgiving look at unhappy lives,” Eberts says, and “holds us in a vise of tightening revenge.” Writer-director Jeff Nichols will be a guest.

2:30 p.m. – “Underworld” (1927), a gangster film that centers on a love triangle among a gangster, his girlfriend and his right-hand man. It has been credited with introducing the basic conventions of the gangster genre and won screenwriter Ben Hecht the first Oscar for original screenplay. The Alloy Orchestra will accompany.

7 p.m. – “The Real Dirt on Farmer John” (2005), a “loving, moving, inspiring, quirky” documentary about the life of Caledonia, Ill., farmer John Peterson, whose odd behavior includes dressing in Dr. Seuss hats and bumblebee costumes and dancing wildly in the fields. The film, Ebert says, also gives a sense of the gradual death of the American family farm and its rebirth, in this case, in the form of Angelic Organics. Peterson will be a guest, along with director Taggart Siegel.

10 p.m. – “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters” (1985), a film about Japanese author Yukio Mishima (1925-1970), a traditionalist who exalted the medieval code of the samurai and wished to restore the emperor to power. Ebert describes it as “the most unconventional biopic I’ve ever seen, and one of the best.” Director Paul Schrader, who wrote the screenplays for “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull,” will be a guest.

Saturday, April 26
11 a.m. – “Hulk” (2003), a movie “not so much about a green monster as about two wounded adult children of egomaniacs,” according to Ebert. “The movie brings up issues about genetic experimentation, the misuse of scientific research and our instinctive dislike of misfits, and actually talks about them.” There’s of course also action and special effects. Director Lee will be a guest.

Alloy Orchestra
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The Alloy Orchestra of Cambridge, Mass., will return to the festival to accompany the silent "Underworld."

3 p.m. – “The Band’s Visit” (2007), an Israeli film about a ceremonial police band from Egypt that takes the wrong bus to the wrong destination, finding itself stuck for the night in a lifeless town in the Israeli desert. As a result, Arabs and Israelis spend a long night of “guarded revelations, shared isolation and tentative tenderness,” Ebert says. Writer-director Eran Kolirin will be a guest.

7:30 p.m. – “Housekeeping” (1987), about two orphaned girls and their lives with their weird Aunt Sylvie, who comes to look after them in an isolated community in the Pacific Northwest. The film is based on a novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Marilynne Robinson. Writer-director William Forsyth will be a guest, along with Lahti, who plays Sylvie.

11 p.m. – “The Cell” (2000), which Ebert describes as “a thriller and a fantasy, a police movie and a venture into the mind of a killer so perverse he could see Hannibal Lecter and raise him.” Lopez plays a social worker asked to venture into the killer’s subconscious and Vaughn plays an FBI agent. Director Tarsem Singh will be a guest.

Sunday, April 27
Noon – “Romance and Cigarettes” (2005), an unconventional musical set in New York City that centers on a working-class husband and wife at war after the discovery of a poem he wrote to his mistress. Written and directed by John Turturro, the movie “makes a slow, lovely U-turn from raucous comedy to bittersweet regret,” according to Ebert. James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon and Kate Winslet play the principal roles. Choreographer Tricia Brouk will be a guest, along with Aida Turturro, who plays one of the daughters.

At 4:30 p.m., after the close of the festival, the Champaign County Anti-Stigma Alliance will hold a free second showing of “Canvas” in the Virginia Theatre, followed by a panel of guest speakers. The alliance was formed to challenge disability discrimination and promote education and awareness.

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 4 through the theater box office; phone 217-356-9063; fax: 217-356-5729. The price will be $10 each for regular admission and $8 each for students and senior citizens.

The 1,000 festival passes, covering all festival screenings, went on sale Nov. 1 and sold out within three weeks.

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