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Ebertfest Will Go On Without Its Namesake

Film Critic Roger Ebert receives a special award of recognition at the American Society of Cinematographers 17th Annual Outstanding Achievement Awards at the Century Plaza Hotel on February 16, 2003 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Film Critic Roger Ebert receives a special award of recognition at the American Society of Cinematographers 17th Annual Outstanding Achievement Awards at the Century Plaza Hotel on February 16, 2003 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

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Steve Miller is an investigative reporter and has been with Newsradio...
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CHICAGO (CBS) – The show will go on. Next Wednesday, the 17th annual Ebertfest begins in Champaign at the Virginia Theatre, home to the film festival for 15 years.

WBBM Newsradio’s Steve Miller reports the five-day movie festival will be an emotional time, as it’s the first without founder and Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert.

“I think the entire festival will be a kind of tribute to Roger,” said Virginia Theatre director Steven Bentz. “It is a difficult and extremely poignant time.”

Originally named Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival, it is organized by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the films have always been selected by Ebert himself.

Bentz said Ebert – a University of Illinois alumnus and Urbana native – helped save the Virginia Theatre by moving the festival there.

“He was just such a beloved presence here, and as much as any single individual, Roger was a big part of the saving of this theatre, which had fallen into poor repair in the mid-1990s, and since 2000 has been restored by the Champaign Park District back to its original splendor,” he said.

Ebertfest is showing 12 feature films and two short-subject movies, beginning April 17. The first film at the festival this year will be Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven, which won an Oscar for best cinematography.

“I think that, with the enormity of what has happened with Roger’s death, that it is going to be an extraordinary event. It’s going to be an extraordinary coming together of people who loved Roger and people who love movies,” Bentz said.

Actors Jack Black and Tilda Swinton are expected to attend. Bentz said everything at this year’s festival will be infused with a kind of tribute to Ebert.

Festival passes have sold out, but tickets are available for some individual shows at the Virginia Theatre website.