My collegue, Mike Hall, and I arrived in Urbana, IL around 3:30 pm following a 4-hour drive from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The day was warm and sunny – much like the atmosphere we would soon encounter at the president’s home (University of Illinois) where a reception would be held in honor of the third annual “Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival.”
We arrived at the president’s mansion where two attractive women greeted us with smile, leading us into this huge, elegant party to be greeted by the University’s president, James J. Stukel and his wife. I took a few steps further in and there was Roger Ebert – sipping on a cocktail and talking with one of the festival guests.
Not long after, I tapped Mr. Ebert on his should and introduced myself. “Oh, yes! Herb Kane from Criticdoctor.com,” Ebert replied. He then motioned to his wife, “Chaz – this is Herb Kane from Critic Doctor.” Chaz smiled and graciously shook my hand.
“Now aren’t you with RottenTomatoes.com, too?” Ebert asked.
Puzzled, I replied, “Uh, no. Just Critic Doctor.” Then a thought occurred to me. “But I do write for Chris Gore.”
“Oh, yes – Film Threat. That’s it!” said Roger. Then the Governor of Illinois entered and Roger said, “I must go greet the governor. We’ll talk again.” And off he went.
The party was packed with directors, actors, and other VIPS – all in a very casual setting. No harassing body guards or limited access. All people attending were treated as friends and that gave this party a personal feel – making it extra special. Well, and not to mention the fine food made up of delicious sandwiches (turkey, ham and roast beef) and elegant desserts. It almost felt like I was attending someone’s wedding reception, only Roger Ebert is the groom and the celebrity guests are his brides. If there ever was a marriage made in heaven, this was it!
Ebert took the microphone in one of the big rooms (like which one isn’t big?) and gave an introduction to talk about the “overlooked” theme of the festival. He points out there are many different ways a film may be overlooked – such as 70 millimeters, silence, documentary, or genre – including musical. Ebert said, “In general, no matter how overlooked your film is not – in my opinion it has not received the attention and praise it deserves. Some of the best films that are made never open in some cities, some of them never open in some states. This festival is a reminder every year of the wonderful variety of film that exists and genres that exists and kinds of films that exist.”
Exactly! Many films to be screened this year have never made it to my own city. So it is not difficult for a film to really be overlooked and what a shame it is. Thanks to Mr. Ebert, these films now have a platform for many people to discover, or in some cases, re-discover potentially lost art.
Urbana is Ebert’s hometown and he attended the University of Illinois. So this is the natural place where Ebert would want to conduct his annual film fest. There is a single site where all films will be screened – The Virginia Theater. Built in 1921, this elegant 1,500-seat building features an exterior Italian design and an interior Spanish design. You get that old-fashioned theater feel – appropriate for a film festival of this nature.
Ebert proceeded to individually introduce directors, actors and other film industry executives and guests including Keir Dullea (star of “2001:A Space Odyssey”), George Walton (star of “On the Ropes”), Jan Harlan (producer and brother-in-law of the late Stanley Kubrick), Ramin Serry (director of “Maryam”), David Urrutia (producer/writer of “Jesus’ Son”), etc. All were well received and excited to be a part of an event very different from other festivals in the industry.
George Walton during his speech said, “First of all, I want to thank the Lord for uniting us all here today. The Lord sends people in your lives when you don’t realize it. And I’m sure that Roger is heaven sent because this film here didn’t get much attention. I mean, it did at the Sundance Film Festival, but eventually it fades away. Roger continues to lift it up and I want to thank you for that, Roger.”
This, in a nutshell, is what “Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival” is about. Lifting up quality movies that could otherwise be forgotten. Whether or not the Lord sent Ebert on this mission or not, my first impression of this film festival is a heavenly one.
Read Herb Kane’s next report from “Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival” and get the scoop on the screening of a remastered print of “2001: A Space Odyssey”>>>
Check out FILMTHREAT.com’s FILM FESTIVAL ARCHIVES for more fest news!