Letter from the Producer

Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival, 2000

This special event of the College of Communications kicked off with a film celebration reception March 23 at the Hefner Mansion in Los Angeles, with Hef in attendance, Roger Ebert as Guest Speaker, and 200 communications alumni and filmmaker guests. Joanne and UI Trustee Roger Plummer then hosted a Press Party at the Chicago Hilton on April 7 for members of the Chicago press, the Chicago Film Critics Society, and festival sponsors, with Roger speaking. The festival itself began with a Gala reception at the home of President James Stukel and Joan Stukel on April 26, with 250 festival guests, sponsors, volunteers, and friends.

Thursday, April 27, the Opening Panel, hosted by Roger, was "Digital vs. Film: The War for the Soul of Cinema," with film maker guests, UI faculty, visiting critics, and a packed audience. This was the first of four academic panels listed in the sidebar. Roger then went to a book signing at the Illini Union Bookstore on campus, followed by the first screening at the Virginia Theatre of "Sidewalk Stories" by Charles Lane, who spoke onstage with Roger after the film. Over 25 special festival guests were flown in for the festival from all over the world including actor Ayesha Dharkar from India (The Terrorist), and directors Paul Cox, Rob Sitch and Michael Hirsch from Australia. Official festival airlines AmericanAirlines/American Eagle and Northwest Airlines flew guests to CU. We wish to thank College alumnus Mary Francis Fagan of American Airlines for her great help, also Chan Phillips of Northwest and Donna Anderson of Adventure travel. Northwest also sent a film crew to cover the festival for a documentary they will show during in-flight films.

Speaking of media coverage of the festival, "Good Morning America," filming in Chicago, decided to come to Champaign-Urbana and cover the festival. Joel Siegal and crew interviewed Roger and a spot appeared Friday, April 28 on national television. Web film critic David Poland attended the festival for the second year and wrote full coverage on www.roughcut.com, the Hot Botton. Reporters from all over the state attended and were granted interviews by the always charming Roger Ebert, accompanied by his wife Chaz Ebert, who also joined Roger onstage during the festival. WILL-TV crews produced a special edition of their "Critics Choice" program, featuring an interview with Roger and reviews of festival films, which aired the Thursday before the festival. College alumnus and friend Jim Turpin interviewed Roger earlier and several film guests during the festival for his "Penny for Your Thoughts" program on WDWS. WCIA Channel 3 had Producer Nancy Casey and Assistant Director Melissa McKillip on their noon show.

12,000 people attended the 12 screenings, shown on a new screen provided by projectionists James Bond and Steve Kraus, the best in the business, and the News Gazette's donation of $50,000 for the projection booth remodel brought the Virginia up to speed for the festival. Champaign Park District President Bob Toalson, Cultural Arts Manager Julia Guth, and Manager Barb Edfors, herself a College of Communications alumnus, provided everything possible to help make the festival a success, including a "Green Room" for Roger, festival guests and sponsors between screenings, with catering by Michael's.

The program for the festival was done by the Daily Illini, and all graphic design by Nancy Loch. Website www.ebertfest.com was created and maintained by UI faculty member Robert Baird. Two of Professor Sharon Shavitt's advertising classes designed advertising and media campaigns for the festival and festival passes were designed by our advertising student Jen Ridder.

Roger was presented with a plaque designating him "Adjunct Professor of Media Studies and Cinema Studies, UIUC," by Andrea Press, head of Media Studies, and also host of the Postfest Brunch on Sunday.

Our thanks to Chancellor Michael Aiken, Associate Chancellor Dick Wilson, Dean Kim and Nancy Rotzoll, Nickie Dalton, Norman Denzin, Melissa McKillip, and all our sponsors and volunteers, and to Director and alumnus Nate Kohn of U. Georgia. But most of all, to the man with the answers, the preeminent film critic in the land, Roger Ebert and to Chaz Ebert. Thanks for teaching us all so much about film.

Nancy Casey, Producer