This festival is
dedicated to the memory of the great independent director Robert
whose death in November was a loss to cinema and mankind.
Welcome to the Ninth Annual Overlooked
Film Festival. Comparisons with previous years are impossible,
but I think we have one of our strongest programs, with an unusual
range of films, and three live musical performances, plus the score
from "La Dolce Vita."
This year I will be joining you
in the audience. Because of health problems, I'm not yet able to
resume my role on stage, but I hope to be doing the Q & A again next year. We had a discussion about
canceling the festival this year, but when Mary Susan Britt, the
associate festival director, told me all the passes had been sold
in about a week's time, I made a commitment to go forward with the
festival, and I thank you for your support. In the meantime, I've
enlisted expert friends and colleagues to lead the on-stage discussions.
They include David Bordwell, the prolific and most respected film
scholar from the University of Wisconsin; Michael Barker, co-president
of Sony Pictures Classics; David Poland from thehotbutton.com; Eric
Byler, the director of "Charlotte Sometimes;" Peter Sobczynski,
film critic; Jim Emerson, editor of www.rogerebert.com; Jacqueline
Reich, Associate Professor of Italian,
State University of New York at Stonybrook; Anna Thomas, Producer/Screenwriter
(El Norte); Jim DeRogatis, Rock Critic, Chicago Sun-Times; and Michael
Philips, Film Critic, Chicago Tribune.
Again this year we'll be exploiting
the giant screen of the Virginia Theatre to show widescreen films
in their original magnificence. We always try to open with a film
projected in the rare, classic 70mm format, but this year we've
chosen a film that would have been shot in 70mm if the format were
more accepted: Andrew Niccol's "Gattaca," with
its futuristic vision of a chilling new world.
I'm also excited to be able to
see Federico Fellini's "La Dolce
Vita" in its original widescreen. The title is famous, but to
see it in 35mm widescreen is almost impossible. And the format shows
off its elegant black-and-white cinematography.
We welcome for the second time "The Father of African Cinema," Ousmane
Sembene, with his latest film, "Moolaade." When it premiered
at Cannes, I called it one of the best films in the festival, but
it never received a wide release in this country. Its subject, compulsory
female circumcision, may seem grim. But Sembene brings astonishing
humor and life to his story.
We've brought back four recent
releases that failed to make the impact they deserved at the box
office. "Perfume: The Story
of a Murderer," directed by Tom Tykwer ("Run, Lola, Run")
is a haunting version of a novel by Patrick Suskind many readers
thought could never be filmed. "The
Weather Man," with another great performance by Nicolas Cage,
is a stunning portrait of a sad loser in crisis; Michael Caine co-stars
as a father who cannot forgive failure. "Holes," directed
by Chicago native and Illinois graduate Andy Davis ("The Fugitive")
is much more than a
children's story…it is parable, allegory, haunting. And the
directing debut by the wonderful actress Joey Lauren Adams, "Come
Early Morning," features one of Ashley Judd's best performances,
and brilliant work by Scott Wilson. He and wife Heavenly were here
for the first festival, and have become treasured friends, returning
for the third time.
Two of my all-time favorite directors,
masters of originality, are making return visits. Paul Cox of Australia
is back with "Man
of Flowers," the portrait of a disturbed and very lonely man,
and Werner Herzog presents "Stroszek," the story of three
odd Europeans invading an even odder Wisconsin. The final mechanical
chicken scene is immortal.
We have shown a silent film with
live orchestra every year. But what a triumph this year when the
Champaign-Urbana Symphony, under the direction of Steven Larsen,
accompanies Raoul Walsh's "Sadie
Thompson." The Orchestra developed this project itself, and
I have boundless gratitude to them for offering it to us. Our friends
from the Alloy Orchestra continue to have great success and will
return in the near future.
Two other films have unexpected
portraits of musicians at opposite extremes. Rudi Dolezal's "Freddie Mercury, the Untold Story," shows
a Freddie Mercury we never knew existed. Rudi Dolezal will attend
from Vienna, Austria. Andrew Douglas' "Searching for the Wrong-Eyed
Jesus" shows a portrait of the South rarely seen. Its musician
star, Jim White, will follow it on stage.
The showing of "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" is a tribute
to director Russ Meyer, a longtime friend and truly overlooked artist.
It will be followed by a live reunion performance by the legendary
Strawberry Alarm Clock. Recently, we lost Russ Meyer and Marcello
Mastroianni ("La Dolce Vita"). Their work speaks for their
genius. This festival is dedicated to the memory of the great independent
director, Robert Altman, whose death in November was a loss to cinema
In the months since July, 2006, illness has made my life difficult.
I thought recovery would come more quickly. Without the tireless
dedication of Festival Director Nate Kohn, Associate Director Mary
Susan Britt, and my cherished wife, Chaz, there could have been no
festival this year. Heartfelt thanks to them, and Executive Producer
Nancy Casey, and my Personal Assistant, Carol Iwata.
In the projection booth, all formats will be showcased by wizards
of light James Bond and Steve Kraus.
The Overlooked is possible only because of the tireless generosity
of our sponsors and the tireless work of our volunteers, for whom
thanks seems hardly adequate. The festival is a production of the
College of Communications of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,
whose dean, Ron Yates, has been generous in his support and encouragement.
Jameel Jones and Anthony Howell deserve
warm credit for the Virginia Theatre operation itself, which they
coordinate and supervise with warm hospitality. Thanks to the Champaign
Park District for its support of the Overlooked and the festival
area. Dusty Cohl, who founded the Toronto Film Festival, joins with
his wife Joan as our Accomplices-in-Chief. Leone
Advertising designed the new look of the site and maintains ebertfest.com;
Robert Baird generously provides hosting for the website; Carlton
Bruett is responsible for the posters and the look of the festival;
and Allison Firor is our invaluable coordinator. Among many local
friends, many from my early years here, none gives warmer or more
cheerful hospitality than the irreplaceable Betsy Hendrick. And special
thanks to our long time sponsors and friends Jim Pritzker, Ed Tracy,
Mary Frances Fagan, Roger and Joanne Plummer, Brand Fortner, and
Marsha and Roger Woodbury. The Daily Illini, my other alma mater,
produces this splendid program.
And very special thanks to University President B. Joseph White
and Chancellor Richard Herman for their generous and continuing support.
* * *
After nine years the festival is overlooked no more. So next year
we will rename it more accurately: Ebertfest – Roger Ebert's