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Why I Love Ebertfest: A Movie Lover’s Dream

Why I Love Ebertfest: A Movie Lover's Dream

Dear Ebertfest Movie Lovers,

In celebration of our 25th Anniversary, several of our longtime audience members have shared their testimonials with us about what drew them to Ebertfest and why they keep coming back. These snapshots of what makes Ebertfest such a joyous occasion are so special, that we had to share them with you! Follow his story and then go to to buy your pass for the upcoming 25th Anniversary, April 17-20!

We look forward to welcoming you!


First up, Joe from the Northwest Chicago Suburbs:

“I was born on Chicago’s south side in 1973 at Michael Reese Hospital. My parents were from the South Chicago neighborhood but eventually our family ended up in Albany Park. As time went on, gang violence started to get more and more concerning. When my teenaged babysitter Barbara was killed by a stray bullet a hundred yards from our home on Spaulding Avenue, my parents moved us to the northwest suburbs. That was in 1985, but up until that point, Chicago was all that I knew – and I didn’t want to leave. The neighborhood got rough sometimes, but movies were all the escape that I needed.

And where movies were concerned, at that time in my life, the Sun-Times and Tribune were nothing short of magical. I would huddle-up with the papers every weekend, breathing in the scent of that ink, and gaze at movie ads. Soon I had fallen in love with the weekly reviews written by both Roger and Gene. I’d map out a schedule each weekend, one that would allow me to see five movies in a single day by bouncing from theater to theater. Was it even possible to take a CTA bus from the Portage to the Patio to the Plaza? I didn’t know but desperately wanted to find out. Of course, I wasn’t old enough to see Ordinary People or Silkwood or Sophie’s Choice, but that didn’t stop me from plotting and scheming each weekend, longing to experience each of Roger’s and Gene’s film recommendations for myself.

Fast-forward to May 2001. I was married, working for a software company, and living in northern Illinois. My aunt mailed me a newspaper clipping with an article describing the Overlooked Film Festival. Turns out I had missed the 3rd iteration by a few weeks and would have to wait 11 more months until the next opportunity. That was my introduction to the festival and the rest is history; April 2002 was my first visit to Champaign and I (so far) haven’t missed a single Ebertfest. I’m lucky to live a mere 200 miles away, and thankfully April tends to work well for my schedule.

While I was aware of Sundance and TIFF and Cannes, attending something like that had never crossed my mind. Flying off into the unknown to attend a festival with complete strangers would not have seemed appealing or realistic. But the Overlooked Film Festival was (somewhat) local, and Champaign was also the home of UIUC. I was taking college classes myself at the time and was intrigued by the notion of academia as a festival backdrop. I wanted to edify my inner film-nerd, and Roger’s involvement made that possibility seem all but guaranteed.

My cousin, two friends, and my now-18-year-old daughter are the only people who have accompanied me on my annual excursion (as I have come to call it.) But I’ve also attended without any accompaniment whatsoever, and that’s a testament to the sense of family fostered by this festival. In fact, one of the main reasons that I keep coming back for each new Ebertfest adventure is the connection to people who have become important to me over these years. My festival-friends are nothing short of delightful; I am so thankful to have them, and would experience a real sense of loss if I missed my annual opportunity to be in their company.

I often tell people: There’s a unique gravitational pull to this festival; once you’ve been a part of it, you’ll probably be back. And that’s certainly true for my daughter Jillian, for example. As fate would have it, she loved her Champaign-Urbana experience so much that she starts her first semester as a UIUC student this coming fall. And as such, I’m thankful to have yet another reason to continue coming back to Champaign every year.”

We encourage you to share this story, and your own, with your friends, family, and social networks far and wide! And don’t forget to buy your Ebertfest passes!

We’ll see you at the movies!

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