Roger Ebert has announced the 12 films that will be screened at his third annual “Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival,” April 25-29, 2001, at the historic Virginia Theatre in Champaign, Illinois and at the University of Illinois. ^ Ebertfest is a special event of the university’s College of Communications. It focuses on films, genres and formats that Ebert believes deserve wider attention. The festival brings the films and many of their producers, directors, and actors to Champaign-Urbana, to showcase them for general audiences, distributors, and critics from around the world.
Here are Ebert’s thumbnail descriptions of each film.
1. Everyone Says I Love You (Woody Allen, USA, 1996). Musicals are a threatened genre and Woody Allen is a gifted filmmaker whose astonishing range deserves more attention. Here is a film in which all of the actors sing their own songs in their own voices (except one, Drew Barrymore, who says her singing is “hopeless”). There is a freshness in their performances, recapturing the directness of musicals like “Singin’ in the Rain,” which blossomed before the genre sank under the weight of Broadway bloat. Allen stars with Julia Roberts in one of the film’s several unlikely love stories.
2. Girl On the Bridge (Patrice Leconte. France, 1999). Leconte has a distinctive blend of comedy and bittersweet regret. His films are almost always about obsessions; one character is a voyeur, another loves hairdressers, a third and the hero of this film is a circus knife-thrower who finds his targets on the bridges of Paris, recruiting girls about to jump. If his aim as a knife-thrower is true, they get an interesting job with lots of travel. If he misses, well, what do they have to lose?
3. Jesus’ Son (Alison Maclean, Canada/USA, 1999). An unlikely journey to redemption by a layabout from Iowa City (Billy Crudup, from “AlmostFamous”), whose drug addiction leads him into strange relationships, and whose rehabilitation leads him into stranger ones. The film’s method is to surprise us with one astonishment after another, not least a moment in an emergency room when an orderly (Jack Black) rises to an extremely strange occasion. We’d hardly suspect from the opening scenes how much humor and winsome romance the film will contain.
4. The King of Masks (Wu Tianming, China, 1996). This year’s Saturday Free Children’s Matinee is, like all great children’s films, a film equally entertaining for adults. It tells the story of an elderly street performer in 1930’s China, who wants to pass on the ancient art of silk masks, and decides to adopt a son. Exciting chases, melodramatic revelations, close calls, wonderful visuals, a vivid sense of period and location, and a very big surprise.
5. Maryam (Ramin Serry, USA, 2000). I saw this at the Hawaii festival and was moved by its story about an Iranian-American teenager living in New Jersey. She thinks of herself as simply an American, until anti-Iranian sentiment erupts in her community after American hostages are held in Iran. I like the way it’s rooted realistically in everyday suburban teenage life, instead of depending on unlikely melodrama.
6. Nosferatu (F. W. Murnau, Germany, 1922). Our silent film this year will be given a live musical accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra of Cambridge, Mass., whose performances are always the highlight of the Telluride Film Festival. Murnau’s classic is the first film based on the Dracula story, starring Max Schreck in one of the greatest and creepiest of all screen performances.
7. On the Ropes (Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen, USA, 1999). This Sundance hit and Oscar nominee begins as a documentary about three young boxers who dream of the Golden Gloves and stardom. In the course of the filming, disaster strikes, when one of the boxers, Tyrene Manson, is arrested on drug charges. The film explores basic and troubling questions about law enforcement, the judicial system, and current drug laws.
8. Panic (Henry Bromell, USA, 2000). William H. Macy was raised by his father (Donald Sutherland) to go into the family business, which is killing people. Wearying of the life of a hit man, he seeks help from a psychiatrist, and in the waiting room meets a young woman (Neve Campbell) who affects his life in an unexpected way. With Tracy Ullmann as Macy’s wife and Barbara Bain (onetime Illinois homecoming queen) as his mother. The premise makes it sound like a comedy, and it is, for awhile, sort of.
9. Songs from the Second Floor (Roy Anderson, Sweden, 2000). One of the three best films I saw at Cannes 2000 (the others were “Innocence,” by 2000 Festival guest Paul Cox, and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”). A profoundly weird vision of a city in the throes of economic and moral collapse. Imagine Bunuel, Dali and Magritte collaborating on scenes in which people go stark staring mad but keep their composure and continue to go through the motions. Still without U.S. distribution, perhaps because it is simply too original and daring.
10. A Simple Plan (Sam Raimi, USA, 1998). How and why did American audiences all but ignore this modern masterpiece, which was on so many Best 10 lists, including mine? When a plane carrying drug money crashes in a wooded area, it is discovered by hunters who hope to keep their windfall a secret. But how can rural working people conceal, or spend, $4 million? Brilliant performances by Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, Bridget Fonda and Brent Briscoe.
11. Such A Long Journey (Sturla Gunnarsson, UK/Canada, 1998). Based on the novel by Rohinton Mistry, the Toronto-based writer who in that book and “A Fine Balance” finds a Dickensian richness in modern India. Filmed on location in Bombay, a film so abundant in atmosphere it makes Western films look pale and underpopulated. The everyday lives of the residents of an apartment building provide the materials for touching human comedy.
12. 3 Women (Robert Altman, USA, 1977). My choice as the best film of 1977–but unavailable since then. Now, in a freshly restored 35mm print, the story of roommates in a tacky Southwestern condo, who inexplicably swap personalities. Shelley Duvall won the best actress award at Cannes, Sissy Spacek was nominated for an Oscar, Janice Rule is mysterious and affecting as a local artist. Some audiences treasured it, others were baffled. It is one of Altman’s masterpieces.
All 12 films will be shown at the historic Virginia Theatre, 203 W. Park, Champaign. Roger Ebert and festival guests will be on stage before and
after each film to join the audience in discussions about the films. Festival passes are currently on sale at the Virginia Theatre box office at (217) 356-9063 and the Bresnan Meeting Center at (217) 398-2550. The Art Theatre, one block from the Virginia, 126 W. Church, Champaign, will also be a part of Ebertfest. For more information, visit the EbertFest website or contact: Assistant Director Melissa McKillip at email@example.com, (217)-244-0552; Festival Manager Nickie Dalton at firstname.lastname@example.org (217)-333-2350, Fax: (217)-333-9882; or Festival Director Nate Kohn at email@example.com or (706)-542-4972.