Founded in 1999 by the late Roger Ebert, University of Illinois Journalism graduate and Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic, Roger Ebert’s Film Festival (Ebertfest) celebrates films that haven’t received the recognition they deserved during their original runs. The festival gives these films and their filmmakers a well-deserved second look.
Ebertfest takes place in Urbana-Champaign each April. Chaz Ebert, Roger’s beloved wife, business partner and fellow film-lover, is the festival host.
While Roger passed away in April 2013, his influence on the Festival continues. True to Roger’s vision, the twelve films screened during the five day event represent a cross-section of important cinematic works overlooked by audiences, critics and/or distributors. Some films come from lists of possible films that Roger drew up over the first 15 years of the festival. Chaz Ebert and Festival Director Nate Kohn select additional films based on Roger’s established criteria for an Ebertfest film. Both Chaz and Nate worked closely with Roger for fifteen years on programming the festival.
The Festival brings together the films’ producers, writers, actors and directors to help showcase their work. A filmmaker or scholar introduces the films, and screenings are followed by an in depth on-stage Q&A discussion among filmmakers, critics and the audience.
Ebertfest is a special event of the College of Media at the University of Illinois, and the festival, in conjunction with the College, hosts a number of on-campus academic panel discussions each year that feature filmmaker guests, scholars and students.
All the festival films screen in the 1,500-seat Virginia Theatre, a restored 1920s movie palace with state-of-the-art 35/70mm and digital projection. A portion of the Festival’s income goes toward on-going renovations at the theatre.
The mission of Ebertfest is to celebrate films, genres and formats that have been overlooked by distributors, audiences and/or critics. These include independent, international and studio films that did not win wide audiences; overlooked formats such as 70mm; and overlooked genres such as documentaries and musical. The festival screens one film at a time, so everyone sees the same films at the same time, promoting a strong sense of community among audience members, filmmakers, guests, students and scholars.
Roger became the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times in 1967 and remained for forty-six years until his death on April 4, 2013. He was the first film critic to receive the Pulitzer Prize in 1975, and is the only film critic with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was a member of the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame and was named honorary life member of the Directors Guild of America; and an honorary member of the Society of Cinematographers. He was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Screenwriters Guild and received honorary degrees from the American Film Institute, the Art Institute of Chicago School of Film, and the University of Colorado at Boulder. In 2001 he received the highest honor bestowed by the State of Illinois, the Order of Lincoln.
In 1975 Roger and Gene Siskel invented a new genre of television with their movie review show, Sneak Previews. It later became Siskel & Ebert. After Siskel’s death the show became Ebert & Roeper, with Richard Roeper. Later Roger produced, Ebert Presents At The Movies with two new hosts. He was Lecturer on Film for the University of Chicago Enrichment Program from 1970 until 2006, was an adjunct professor in the Department of Journalism at the University of Illinois and recorded shot-by-shot commentaries for the DVDs of “Citizen Kane,” “Casablanca,” “Floating Weeds” and “Dark City.” Ebert has published over 20 books.
In 1999, Roger and his wife Chaz launched “Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival (Ebertfest),” an annual event presented every April in the historic Virginia Theatre in his hometown of Champaign-Urbana, IL.
In 2009, Roger and Chaz established the endowment for the Roger Ebert Program in Film Studies in the College of Media.
Roger said at the time, "The University of Illinois is deep in my heart as a great institution. It informed and enriched me. Although there were no film courses when I was an undergraduate, it nevertheless guided me in my lifelong love of film. I hope when this Program and Center are fully realized, they will inspire new generations." The Roger Ebert Program in Film Studies will house the annual film festival, as well as other programming throughout the year.
Please call the Virginia Theatre at 217-356-9063 to be placed on the waiting list.