U of I logo

“The Fugitive,” starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones, will open the 20th annual Roger Ebert Film Festival hosted by Chaz Ebert, coming April 18-22 to downtown Champaign.

Roger Ebert called the film “one of the best entertainments of the year” when it opened 25 years ago, and its director, Andrew Davis, will be a festival guest.

Also a guest at this year’s “Ebertfest” will be Ava DuVernay, the director of the Oscar-nominated “Selma” and of the newly released “A Wrinkle in Time.” She will be coming with her film “The 13th,” nominated for a 2017 Oscar for best documentary.

DuVernay will be joined by two other black female directors: Amma Asante, coming with her film “Belle,” and Julie Dash, coming with her film “Daughters of the Dust.”

“What an honor to have these three queens of cinema grace our festival,” Chaz Ebert said.

At least eight additional films will be announced in the coming weeks, along with additional guests and a schedule of screenings and other events.

All Ebertfest films are shown in the ornate 1,500-seat Virginia Theatre, a restored downtown Champaign movie palace opened in 1921, which boasts a big screen, high-quality projection and sound, and a Wurlitzer organ. Festival guests appear onstage for Q&As after their respective films.

“The Fugitive” (1993) is a fast-paced drama that follows a doctor on the run from the law after he’s wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife. He must evade capture by a team of U.S. marshals while also attempting to clear his name. In a four-star review, Roger Ebert called the film “a tense, taut and expert thriller.” Director and festival guest Davis is a University of Illinois journalism alumnus.

“The 13th” (2016) examines the history and operation of U.S. prisons. Reviewer Odie Henderson called it “an unflinching, well-informed and thoroughly researched look at the American system of incarceration, specifically how the prison industrial complex affects people of color.”

“Belle” (2014) was inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, an illegitimate mixed-race girl raised in privilege by 18th century English aristocrats but held back from true noble social standing and potential suitors. She eventually plays a part in an effort to end slavery in England. The film “brings a Jane Austen sensibility to historical issues of race,” Chaz Ebert said.

“Daughters of the Dust” (1991) tells the story of a black family in the Gullah community of coastal South Carolina near the turn of the 20th century and in the midst of a generational split. Roger Ebert called the film “a tone poem of old memories, a family album in which all of the pictures are taken on the same day.”

Ebertfest was co-founded in 1999 by Chicago Sun-Times film critic and University of Illinois alumnus Roger Ebert and his wife, Chaz. Organized in collaboration with the College of Media at the U. of I., the festival in large part celebrates films, genres and formats that have been overlooked by distributors, audiences and/or critics.

Films are screened one at a time, promoting a strong sense of community among audience members, filmmakers, guests, students and scholars – some coming from around the world. Discussion panels and other events are held at the nearby Hyatt Place in Champaign.

Since Roger Ebert’s death in 2013, Chaz Ebert has served as the festival producer, as well as host, working with longtime festival director Nate Kohn in selecting the films. They draw from lists Roger made over the first 15 years of the festival and select others based on his established criteria.

This year's 20th annual event will be dedicated to Roger, as well as to Mary Frances Fagan, a Champaign native, U. of I. alumna and American Airlines spokeswoman who Roger dubbed the festival’s “guardian angel” due to her efforts to facilitate and support the travel of international filmmakers. Fagan died Feb. 4 in Chicago.

Festival passes are available for $150, plus processing. Festivalgoers will receive a 15 percent discount when they purchase a four-pack. Additionally, a small number of U. of I. student passes will be made available at $100 each.

All passes can be purchased through www.ebertfest.comwww.thevirginia.org or at the Virginia Theatre box office, 203 W. Park Ave., Champaign, 217-356-9063.

Tickets for individual movies will be available April 2. Admission is $15 for adults and $13 for students and seniors.

For additional information, visit www.ebertfest.com.