College of Media | News

Ebertfest drew 18,000 movie lovers to Champaign and campus

Betsy Drazner '12 JOURN
5/6/2011  4:45 pm

Virginia TheaterAfter months of planning, scheduling and coordinating, Mary Susan Britt, associate festival director of Roger Ebert’s Film Festival, finally got the chance to sit back and admire her handiwork during the three-day fest held in April at the Virginia Theatre in downtown Champaign. Often called Ebertfest, the annual film festival features movies chosen by 1964 University of Illinois journalism graduate, Roger Ebert, who has shared his love of movie magic with the festival’s 18,000 guests for the 13th consecutive year.

Britt said her favorite part of Ebertfest is experiencing the sense of togetherness it inspires.

“It means getting together with all these movie lovers and festival goers and just sitting in the theater and watching these wonderful movies that Roger selects, and just being a part of that audience with everybody else,” Britt said.

Her responsibilities to Ebertfest last all year, but January through May is usually a crunch time. Between coordinating logistics with the Virginia Theatre, guests’ hotels, travel agents, sponsors, donors, caterers, and more, Britt has her hands full. She also works hard to ensure that itineraries, merchandise, advertisements, and content for the festival’s program and website are all ready by the time the curtain goes up.


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Britt said she owes a thank you to the members of the community who help with everything including hosting guests and providing transportation.

“We could not do it without the community,” she said with gratitude.

Ebertfest, which is hosted by the College of Media, allows the school to gain a place in the spotlight.

“It’s a once in a lifetime experience,” Britt said. “It means so much to the college.”

Some of the newer assets to the festival this year are the Ebertfest interns who assist Britt, a live streaming of panels and question/answer sessions, and the attendance of festival bloggers who regularly contribute to Roger’s online journal. Twitter and Facebook have also become a key part of the festival.

“We’re so proud of Roger and so happy that he wants to do this here and through the college and our community,” Britt said.

Some of the audience members at Ebertfest came with tour groups from all over the country. Others are local movie lovers.

List of movies

The panels discussed the importance of movie festivals. The creation of video-on-demand on TV and computers takes away from the movie going experience for some patrons.

“People were worried it would destroy the theatrical experience,” said panelist Matt Singer, host of the Independent Film Channel’s IFC News. However, other panelists said this gives film critics an opportunity to be heard.

“I think film criticism is more important because of the internet. It gives a voice to the voiceless,” said panelist Kartina Richardson, a writer and filmmaker. The panelists emphasized that movie critics can make movies a spectator sport, more than just entertainment.

“This show is for acknowledging motion pictures as an art form,” said panelist Dann Gire, film critic for the Daily Herald. Panelists said that movie critiques on their own are works of art. Every review is different, like a fingerprint. In a world where the box office ratings define which movies are successful, film critics are worried that the public is no longer interested in their opinions—they only care about which film made the most money.

Chaz Ebert announced that she and her husband Roger believe the golden age of film critics is now. She said that today, with the Internet, there are more opportunities than ever to prompt and promote critical thinking about movies, which is something people don’t always do on their own.

Dolores Das, an audience member at the Ebertfest panels, is from Champaign. She said she has been coming to Ebertfest since it began. Das attended the University of Illinois when Roger Ebert himself did. She said audience at the festival is made up of local die-hard film goers and people who are important in the film industry from around the world.

Das prefers Ebertfest to multiplex movies that all have similar storylines and flashy special effects.

“These are real stories,” she said. Storytelling through motion pictures, animation, and documentary is what makes Ebertfest so attractive.

The critics are an important part of the festival, she said. Watching them spar gives them a chance to interpret movies for the public.