In 2011, I was invited to attend Roger Ebert’s Film Festival — better known as Ebertfest — as a guest and panelist. Being invited was a huge honor; attending was an even bigger pleasure. I’ve been to a lot of film festivals, but Ebertfest is something special: a small lineup of great films, from recent obscurities to all-time classics, handpicked by film critic Roger Ebert and screened at the beautiful Virginia Theatre in Ebert’s hometown of Champaign, Illinois. There are no acquisitions, no red carpet premieres, and no “buzz.” It’s just the movies and the movie lovers. You sit all day in the Virginia, watching great films and hearing Q&As with filmmakers and critics. If God is a movie lover, this is what heaven must look like, right down to the glorious balcony seating.
I’ll want to go back to Ebertfest every year from now until the end of time, but after the 2013 lineup was announced today on the festival’s website, I’m particularly envious of this year’s attendees. Opening night kicks things off with a rare screening of Terrence Malick’s 1978 masterpiece “Days of Heaven” with the film’s co-cinematographer Haskell Wexler in attendance. The weekend’s screenings also include “Bernie” with special guests Richard Linklater and Jack Black, and “Julia” with star Tilda Swinton. Also notable: the first American screening of controversial Sundance film “Escape From Tomorrow” — which was shot covertly on the grounds of Disney World without the Mouse House’s knowledge or approval — since its premiere in Park City.
The 15th Annual Roger Ebert Film Festival runs from April 17th through the 21st at the Virginia Theatre in Champaign. If you can go, you should go. It’s a fantastic time.