Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival 2005

by | March 16, 2005 | Comments

A 70-mm French comedy by Jacques Tati will open my 7th annual Overlooked Film Festival this April, and a Bollywood musical starring "the most beautiful woman in the world" will close it.

The festival, held April 20-24 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, showcases overlooked films, formats and genres, and is held in the 1,600-seat Virginia Theater, a restored movie palace in downtown Champaign.

The 12 selections, in alphabetical order, will be: "After Dark, My Sweet" (1990), a moody film noir directed by James Foley and starring Jason Patric, Rachel Ward and Bruce Dern as three loners who conspire in a foolhardy kidnap scheme. Jason Patric will appear in person.

"Baadasssss!" (2004), the story of how Melvin Van Peebles‘ 1969 film "Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song" gave a crucial impetus to the independent black film movement. His son Mario Van Peebles, who directed the film and stars as his own father, will appear in person.

"Map of the Human Heart" (1993), Vincent Ward‘s visionary romance about a love between a young Eskimo boy and an Indian girl he meets in a Montreal hospital. Jason Scott Lee and Anna Parillaud star in a story that takes them, when they are adults, from Canada to the center of World War II. Invitations are pending with Ward and Lee.

"Me and You and Everyone We Know," my favorite feature at Sundance 2005, starring Miranda July as a would-be artist who falls in love with a shoe salesman (John Hawkes). That hardly suggests the originality and compexity of the story, which is about the mysteries of sex and the enchantments of the heart. Miranda July, a performance artist who also wrote and directed, will appear in person.

"Murderball," winner of the Audience Award for best documentary at Sundance 2005, is about the sport of full-contact wheelchair rugby, and is especially appropriate for the Urbana campus, one of the birthplaces of wheelchair sports. In person: Star player Mark Zupan, famed coach , directors Dana Adam Shapiro and Henry Alex Rubin, and producer Jeff Mandel.

"The Phantom of the Opera," the 1925 silent classic starring Lon Chaney, "the Man of 1,000 Faces," who keeps his well-hidden for most of the film. Live in the orchestra pit: The Alloy Orchestra of Cambridge, Mass, performing their original score for the film.

"Playtime" (1967), by the great French director and actor Jacques Tati. A recently-restored 70mm print will continue the Overlooked custom of opening with a 70mm film. The movie, which features Tati’s famous Mr. Hulot bemused and bewildered by a series of modern architectural spaces, was Steven Spielberg‘s inspiration for his comedy "The Terminal." In person: Chicago Reader critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, who considers "Playtime" perhaps the greatest film ever made.

"Primer" (2004), a brilliant sci-fi film about techheads who construct a device in the garage that turns out to be a time machine. The movie’s charm is its ability to observe its heroes combining cybertheory with venture capitalism. Made for a reported $7,000 but looking professional and accomplished, the film won the 2004 Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. In person: The writer, director and star, Shane Carruth.

"The Saddest Music in the World" (2003), by the famed Canadian independent filmmaker Guy Maddin, whose comedy, in the form of a 1930s documentary, is about a Winnepeg contest to find the saddest song of all. Presiding is Isabella Rossellini, a glass-legged beer baroness who invites musicians from all over the world. Also on the program: Maddin’s "The Heart of the World" (2000), arguably the most-hailed short subject of the last five years. In person: Guy Maddin.

"The Secret of Roan Inish" (1994), by John Sayles, a hero of the independent film movement, will be our free family matinee on Saturday. Photographed in Donegal, Ireland by former festival guest Haskell Wexler, the film tells of a 10-year old who learns the local legend of Selkies, who are sometimes human, sometimes seals. In person: John Sayles and his producer throughout his career, Maggie Renzi.

"Taal" (1999), a glorious Bollywood extravaganza, will be the Sunday matinee musical. The movie stars "Miss Bollywood," Aishwarya Rai, often called the most beautiful woman in the world, as a singer who falls in love with the son of a rich neighbor—until his parents insult hers, and she seems about to marry a famous music video director. In person: The director, Subhash Ghai, and Uma da Cunha, publisher of a Mumbai trade journal and expert on Indian films.

"Yesterday," one of this year’s Academy Award nominees for best foreign film, and the first feature shot in the Zulu language. A beautiful and deeply moving film, it stars Leleti Khumalo ("Sarafina!," "Cry, the Beloved Country," "Hotel Rwanda") as a village woman whose husband works in the mines of Johannesburg while she raises their young daughter. In person: Two pioneers of the independent South African film movement, producer Anant Singh and his longtime colleague, director Darrell Roodt. Miss Khumalo will attend if her filming schedule permits.

The festival will also offer free panel discussions. At 10 a.m. Thursday I will lead a panel of the visiting filmmakers. At 10 a.m. Friday, Prof. Andrea Press of the Institute of Communications Research will chair a panel on "Women in Film." At 9:30 a.m. Saturday, I will have a discussion with our special guest Jean Picker Firstenberg, director of the American Film Institute.

All guest film artists receive the Golden Thumb award, which will also be given to Ms. Firstenberg, Brenda Sexton of the Illinois Film Office, Rosenbaum, Gerson and Uma da Cunha, Roger and Joanne Plummer, and Betsy Hendrick.

Films are selected by me, with the invaluable advice and counsel of Prof. Nate Kohn of the University of Georgia, who is the festival director. The executive producer is Nancy Casey, the assistant director is Mary Susan Britt, the festival manager is Nickie Dalton, and Chaz Hammelsmith Ebert is the special advisor.

Individual tickets go on sale April 1 at the Virginia Theater (217-356-9063). All passes have already been sold. For more information, go to www.ebertfest.com. Most of the entries are reviewed at rogerebert.com, which includes longer Great Movie essays on "After Dark, My Sweet," "The Phantom of the Opera" and "Playtime."

— By Roger Ebert

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