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Ebertfest 2015 announces full film slate

Roger Ebert’s Film Festival is right around the corner — happening April 15-19 — and here is the entire list of films that will be a part of this year’s festival. 

From the press release:


Additional attendees include Seymour Bernstein, Chazz Palminteri, Héloïse Godet, 
Godfrey Cheshire, Erica Ramis and Leonard Maltin
, among others 

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (March 26, 2015) — THE END OF THE TOUR, a new film about a journalist’s five insightful days with “Infinite Jest” author David Foster Wallace, raised in Champaign-Urbana, will be among the featured films at the 17th Annual Roger Ebert’s Film Festival Hosted by Chaz Ebert, aka ‘Ebertfest’, running April 15-19 in Champaign-Urbana, Ill.

Wallace is played in the film by Jason Segel, and Segel will be a guest for the screening, along with director James Ponsoldt, who attended the festival two years ago with his film THE SPECTACULAR NOW.

Also on the schedule for the 17th annual “Ebertfest,” as previously announced, will be A BRONX TALE, a 1993 Robert De Niro-directed drama starring both De Niro and Chazz Palminteri, who also wrote the screenplay. Palminteri and producer Jon Kilik also will be guests.

Opening the five-day event on Wednesday evening will be Jean-Luc Godard’s GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE 3D, a Jury Prize winner at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and the first 3-D film to be shown at Ebertfest. Lead actress Héloïse Godet will be a guest.

Godard, now 84, was once described by Ebert as “a director of the very first rank” and a significant influence on the development of feature-length film.

Wednesday evening also will feature a tribute to comedy director, screenwriter and actor Harold Ramis – associated with films such as “Caddyshack,” “Ghostbusters” and “Groundhog Day” – who died last year, and for whom this year’s festival is dedicated.

Besides GOODBYE, four other recent foreign films are on this year’s schedule, dealing with female adolescence in France, World War II barbarity in Poland, comic absurdity in Sweden and wild tales in Argentina. One of the four won last year’s Oscar for best foreign film and another was a nominee.

Also on the schedule: a drama/thriller about two Nevada brothers escaping into fantastic stories to deal with their persistent hard luck, a drama about the Great Recession housing crisis, a documentary about the moving of a Southern planation house and its mixed-race family history, and an Ethan Hawke-directed documentary about a classical pianist who gave up the limelight to teach.

This year’s silent film stars Rudolph Valentino in his final role, and will be accompanied by the three-man Alloy Orchestra, of Cambridge, Mass., back for their 14th appearance.

Segel is known for his roles in the TV series “How I Met Your Mother” and in films such as FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL and THE MUPPETS. Palminteri is known for roles in THE USUAL SUSPECTS, ANALYZE THIS, and BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, the latter of which earned him an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor. Kilik recently was the producer for FOXCATCHER and has produced all of the HUNGER GAMES films.

All the festival films will be screened at the 1,500-seat Virginia Theatre, a downtown Champaign movie palace opened in 1921 and restored to its early grandeur though extensive renovations prior to the 2013 festival.

Chaz Ebert will serve as the festival emcee. She also works with festival director Nate Kohn to select the festival’s films, based on Roger Ebert’s criteria and lists he developed over the first 15 years of the festival, before his death in 2013.

Films are chosen because they have been overlooked by critics, distributors or audiences; come from overlooked genres or formats; deserve a second look; or are “empathetic works that comment on the human condition,” Kohn said.

Other festival guests will include directors Ramin Bahrani, Godfrey Cheshire and Alan Polsky, who each directed a film on the festival schedule. They and other guests associated with specific films will appear on the Virginia stage for informal Q-and-A sessions after their screenings.

Many guests also will participate in panels and other events on the University of Illinois campus, to be announced later.

This year’s schedule of films, with associated guests (cited reviews appeared on unless otherwise noted):

Wednesday, April 15

7 p.m. – GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE 3D (2014), a French film directed and written by pioneering filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard. Much of “Goodbye” is built around a young couple at a lake house, often arguing and often naked, but it’s essentially a feature-length montage, with prolonged discussions on historical and political topics, said film critic Matt Zoller Seitz. Godard makes creative use of 3-D and digital video, and the film is “richly expressive in every sort of language (written, spoken, visual),” though what the filmmaker is trying to say may not be clear, Seitz said. “It’s a documentary of a restless mind.” Lead actress Héloïse Godet will be a guest. 

9:30 p.m. – A tribute to Harold Ramis, featuring a collection of short clips from his movies and possibly other footage, followed by a conversation with his wife Erica and Trevor Albert, a producer on several Ramis films. 

Thursday, April 16

1 p.m. – A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE (2014), a Swedish film centered on a pair of Laurel-and-Hardy-like traveling salesmen, but also a collection of self-contained comic vignettes, many reflecting on painful subjects such as mortality, aging and unrequited love. It’s the final part of a trilogy on being human by Swedish “master of comic absurdity” Roy Andersson, and it’s “delightfully odd,” said Variety film critic Peter Debruge. “Though the colors are dreary and the characters numb … there’s not a single dull frame in the entire film.” Producer Johan Carlsson will be a guest.

4 p.m. – MOVING MIDWAY (2007), a documentary about moving an old Southern plantation house, in the process learning a family’s secret history and dealing with myths of planation life. The director is film critic Godfrey Cheshire, who decided to make a documentary when he learned that his cousin planned to move the house from their family’s ancestral land near Raleigh, North Carolina. He then makes chance connections with the African-American side of the family. It’s a “deceptive film,” Roger Ebert said in his 2008 review. “It starts in one direction and discovers a better one.” Cheshire will be a guest.

8:30 p.m. – THE END OF THE TOUR (2015), a drama that centers around a few days of heady and insightful conversation in 1996 between two writers, one of them the acclaimed David Foster Wallace, who died in 2008. The film premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and stars Jason Segel as Wallace and Jesse Eisenberg (THE SOCIAL NETWORK) as David Lipsky, who was then a writer for Rolling Stone and later wrote a memoir on which the film is based. According to film critic Brian Tallerico, Segel brings a “deep blend of insecurity, melancholy, and remarkable intelligence” to his performance. “It is a film about incredibly smart people made by incredibly smart people, and (about) that embrace of not just intellectual pursuit but what the chase does to you.” Segel and director James Ponsoldt will be guests.

Friday, April 17

1 p.m. – GIRLHOOD (2014), a French drama about a teenage girl and the gang of girls she falls in with, in the process learning what friendship means and experimenting with identity. Though the gang of girls are “three tough Rizzo-types,” the film is not about “bad girls” corrupting good, or about girls in peril, but instead is a “terrific antidote” to those common narratives, said film critic Sheila O’Malley. The director, Céline Sciamma, “is more interested in how girls figure things out than in the many ways girls can go wrong,” O’Malley said.

4 p.m. – THE SON OF THE SHEIK (1926), this year’s silent film and the last starring silent-era heartthrob Rudolph Valentino. The plot involves Valentino’s character falling in love with a dancing girl, after which he comes to believe she has betrayed him and then seeks revenge. Valentino also displays his athletic skills through stunt work as an equestrian. The three-man Alloy Orchestra will provide live accompaniment, using its “rack of junk,” electronic synthesizers and other instruments. The score will be one they composed and performed for a restored print of the film.

8:30 p.m. – A BRONX TALE (1993), a drama set in 1968 in an Italian-American Bronx neighborhood, about a teenage boy and the two men attempting to shape his life – his father, played by Robert De Niro, and a gangster named Sonny, played by Chazz Palminteri. The screenplay was written by Palminteri and the film was directed by De Niro, in a first-time effort. The film is “filled with life and colorful characters and great lines of dialogue,” said Ebert in his 1993 review, and De Niro “finds the right notes as he moves from laughter to anger to tears.” Palminteri and producer Jon Kilik will be guests.

Saturday, April 18

11 a.m. – WILD TALES (2014), a multi-story film from Argentina that would appear to live up to its title. It was nominated for a 2015 Oscar for best foreign language film, and won last year’s Academy Award for best film in Argentina. Its six stories are united by a “mordant black humor” and a common theme of deadly revenge and retribution, and the whole is “relentlessly clever and entertaining,” said film critic Godfrey Cheshire. “Each segment sets up expectations that its successor ingeniously fulfills or surpasses.” Casting director Javier Braier and actress Julieta Zylberberg will be guests, along with Sony Pictures Classics Co-President Michael Barker.

2 p.m. – IDA (2013), a black-and-white Polish drama set in 1962, about an 18-year-old orphan and aspiring nun and the journey she takes with her one known relative, a worldly aunt seeking to learn how her Jewish parents died during World War II. Through their journey, revelations come about a dark time when people turned on their friends and neighbors. The film won the 2015 Oscar for best foreign language film, and critic Godfrey Cheshire calls it “riveting, original and breathtakingly accomplished on every level.” 

5 p.m. – THE MOTEL LIFE (2012), a drama and thriller about two brothers, played by Emile Hirsch and Stephen Dorff, who are working odd jobs, drinking hard and drifting from motel to motel, when a hit-and-run accident causes them to flee across Nevada. Their lifeline through a stream of bad luck is escapist stories told by one brother and then sketched by the other, and pencil animations of their tales are woven into the film. The mood of the film is “so melancholy-thick that you ache to comfort these men,” said film critic Sheila O’Malley, yet it’s a film with “a very kind heart.” Director Alan Polsky will be a guest. 

9 p.m. – 99 HOMES (2014), the latest feature film from director Ramin Bahrani, an Ebert favorite who has had three previous films at the festival. This one takes an uncomfortable look at economic inequality and the Great Recession housing crisis through the story of a family evicted from their home in Orlando, Florida, and the realtor who is profiting from multiple foreclosures. Though the film deals with a social issue, it’s structured like a thriller, said film critic Brian Tallerico. And even though some eviction scenes are “gut-wrenching,” the film avoids a black-and-white portrayal, Tallerico said. Bahrani and actor Noah Lomax, who plays a son in the evicted family, will be guests.

Sunday, April 19

11 a.m. – SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION (2014), a documentary directed by BOYHOOD star Ethan Hawke about a classical pianist, Seymour Bernstein, who gave up a thriving career around age 50 for a more-reclusive life of teaching piano, composing and reflecting. The film “offers a moving meditation on creativity and the human spirit,” according to Los Angeles Times film writer Steven Zeitchik. “Bernstein is an anomaly in the modern world, particularly for performers; he’s interested in edification far more than glorification.” 

Roger Ebert was a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic for the Chicago Sun-Times for 46 years and co-hosted movie review programs on television for more than three decades. He also was a 1964 Illinois journalism graduate and adjunct journalism professor.

The festival is an event of the College of Media at Illinois. Additional support is provided by the Champaign County Alliance for the Promotion of Acceptance, Inclusion & Respect; Steak ‘n Shake; and the U. of I.

Tickets for individual films will go on sale beginning April 1 through the theater box office (phone 217-356-9063; open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. MondayFriday) and online through the theater website ( The price will be $14 each for regular admission and $12 each for students and senior citizens. Sales will be limited to four per person.

The 1,000 festival passes, covering all festival screenings, went on sale in November and usually sell out. As of this week, a few remained available, at $145 each.

Even if tickets for individual films are sold out, entrance can usually be obtained by waiting in a designated line that forms outside the theater prior to each screening.

The festival schedule also can be found at, complete with reviews, information about other events and video retrospectives from previous festivals. Also available on the website at the time of the event will be live streaming of panel discussions at the U. of I. and the post-film Q-and-A sessions at the Virginia Theatre.

Those seeking additional information and updates on films, guests and festival events should contact Mary Susan Britt, at217-244-0552 or, or festival director Nate Kohn, at 706-542-4972 or

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