Cinema lost its greatest critic, Roger Ebert, three years ago, but his love of film lives on through Ebertfest, held each April in his hometown of Champaign, Illinois. Now in its 18th year, the festival brings movie buffs together in the restored 1921 Virginia Theatre to screen 12 films from April 13 to 17. Showings run one at a time, promoting a strong sense of community among the festival-going audience, who can all see the same films together.
But don’t let the intimate setup or Champaign’s college-town quaintness fool: This is no small-potatoes affair. The event consistently screens top-notch movies and draws name talent, which in previous years has included the likes of Oliver Stone, Spike Lee, Tilda Swinton, Michael Shannon, and Shailene Woodley. Last year, Jason Segel made a guest appearance and chatted with audiences about his film The End of the Tour. Organizers have announced a 2016 screening of Crimson Peak and an appearance by the movie’s director, Guillermo del Toro, as well as other high-status guests.
The 1,000 available full-access passes ($150) went on sale in November. Historically, they sell out, but the Virginia Theatre keeps a wait list and plays matchmaker for people who have passes to give up and others who want them. (In a quintessentially Midwestern spirit of hospitality and fairness, officials insist that all secondhand passes remain priced at face value.) Individual tickets ($15) go on sale April 1 through the Virginia Theatre box office and include admission to post-screening Q&As with writers, directors, and actors. The nearby University of Illinois, Ebert’s alma mater, also holds free, open-to-the-public panel discussions on Thursday and Friday in the Illini Union.
A short walk from the theater, clubby Seven Saints is known for its
whiskey selection and sliders.
Also nearby is the spiffy new Hyatt Place Champaign ($179/night).
The Art Theater Co-op, one of Ebert’s favorite places to see a flick, is screening in town as well.
Photos courtesy Visit Champaign County