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Thursday, April 17, 2003 02:20 pm

Overlooked and underappreciated

Fifth annual Ebertfest unveils some true gems

Your Friends and Neighbors

In a festival that celebrates recorded moments, the highlight may be a live performance. Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert's fifth Overlooked Film Festival in Urbana-Champaign will feature a special benshi performance next week to accompany the Japanese silent film, I Was Born, But. . .

A benshi, Ebert explains, was a performer who stood next to the screen to act as a simultaneous commentator "in a parallel performance that was more popular than the film itself." Guest benshi Midori Sawata of Tokyo will perform and discuss her craft, joined by film scholar David Bordwell from the University of Wisconsin.

As in years past, the festival roster features an eclectic group of movies from various periods that, for various reasons, Ebert feels were unappreciated when originally released. A rare 70mm print of The Right Stuff (April 23, 7:30 p.m.) opens the festival, and a new print of the seminal musical Singin' in the Rain (April 27, 1:00 p.m.) closes it.

"How is it 'overlooked?' Simply that in its 50th anniversary year, with a brilliant new 35mm restored print, it would be a crime to overlook it," Ebert explains. "With three silent programs this year, it is only appropriate that our traditional Sunday afternoon musical be Singin' in the Rain, the greatest of all Hollywood musicals, which is about the transition from silents to talkies."

The silent films on the festival schedule include the aforementioned I Was Born, But. . . (April 26, 2:00 p.m.), The Golden Age of Silent Comedy(April 26, 11:00 a.m.), and The Black Pirate (April 25, 7:00 p.m.), a rousing swashbuckler starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr., with a new score composed by the Alloy Orchestra. This film was an early experiment in two-strip Technicolor, a precursor to the more widely accepted three-strip method.

Of course, the festival will also showcase movies that were truly overlooked, films that failed to garner the crowds they deserved. Shall We Dance is a touching Japanese comedy from 1996 that tells the story of a man who finds a sense of liberation through ballroom dancing (April 24 at 3:30 p.m.). Your Friends and Neighbors (April 24 at 7 p.m.) is a lacerating look at modern mores starring Jason Patric, Ben Stiller, and Catherine Keener. The directors of these films will answer questions after the screenings. What's Cooking? (April 25 at 3:30 p.m.), the second feature from English director Gurinder Chadha, whose current film Bend it Like Beckham has broken box-office records overseas, looks at how four ethnic families celebrate Thanksgiving, that most American of holidays; Actress Alfre Woodard will be on hand to discuss this movie.

This year's event will surely draw further attention to "a festival that gets less overlooked every year," as its founder refers to it.

Roger Ebert's 5th Annual Overlooked Film Festival runs April 23 through 27 at the Virginia Theater, 203 W. Park, in Champaign. For more information, go to www.ebertfest.com.


Wednesday, April 23

The Right Stuff (7:30 p.m.) Philip Kaufman's epic adaptation of Tom Wolfe's best-selling book covers the difficult birth of the United States space program. A rare 70mm print will be shown. Actor Scott Wilson will answer questions afterwards.


Thursday, April 24

Stone Reader (noon) A documentary about director Mark Moskowitz's search for the author of a 1972 novel. Moskowitz and Dow Mossman, author of the novel, The Stones of Summer, will field questions after the screening.

Shall We Dance (3:30 p.m.) A Japanese man finds himself torn between tradition and his newfound passion for ballroom dancing. Director Masayuki Suo has been invited to attend the festival.

Your Friends and Neighbors (7 p.m.) Writer/director Neil LaBute's dark comedy looks at how the deceptions of six friends lead to emotional turmoil and the destruction of trust. LaBute will take questions after the screening.

Blood and Wine (10 p.m.) Jack Nicholson and Michael Caine star as two friends who embark on a heist that goes horribly wrong. Director Bob Rafelson will be present after the screening.


Friday, April 25

Medium Cool (noon) Robert Forster stars as a jaded TV news cameraman whose conscience is reawakened by a mother and her son and the violence he witnesses at the infamous 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Cinematographer Haskell Wexler and his wife Rita Taggart will discuss the making of the movie.

What's Cooking? (3:30 p.m.) This Thanksgiving tapestry examines how African-American, Jewish, Latino, and Vietnamese families celebrate the holiday. Actress Alfre Woodard has been invited.

Black Pirate (7 p.m.) The Alloy Orchestra accompanies this silent swashbuckler that finds Douglas Fairbanks Sr. sailing the high seas in search of the men who killed his father. This was the first film shot in two-strip Technicolor, an early experiment in this format.

L.627 (9:30 p.m.) This French film covers much of the same ground as Traffic and Training Day but with a grittier tone. Bertrand Tavernier, who directed this tale of one cop's frustrating fight against the system, will be on hand after the screening.


Saturday, April 26

The Golden Age of Silent Comedy (11 a.m.) This collection of short works from cinema's early days features films starring Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, and the Little Rascals.

Organist Dena Mora will provide live accompaniment, and silent film expert Charlie Lustman will lead the post-screening discussion.

I Was Born, But. . . (2 p.m.) This Japanese silent tells the story of two young boys who go on a hunger strike after seeing their father put in his place by his boss. Only when they get an explanation for this behavior will they begin to eat again. Midori Sawato, a professional benshi, will interpret the film as it plays and will discuss her technique after the movie with Roger Ebert and Japanese film expert David Bordwell.

Charlotte Sometimes (6 p.m.) Two relationships that revolve around unique gender and racial dynamics are the focus of this challenging film. Director Eric Byler, executive producer John Manulis, and the film's stars, Jacqueline Kim and Michael Idemoto, will discuss the making of the movie.

13 Conversations About One Thing (9:30 p.m.) The lives of four people intersect in unexpected ways in this morality tale about guilt, responsibility, and the pursuit of happiness. Director/writer Jill Sprecher and co-writer Karen Sprecher will take questions from the audience after the film.

Sunday, April 27

Singin' in the Rain (1 p.m.) The classic musical with the incomparable Gene Kelly and co-stars Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor takes a madcap look at the birth of sound movies. A new 35mm print will be shown and O'Connor and co-star Cyd Charisse will be present at the screening.

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