Ebertfest means a lot to me because I started helping with and attending the festival when it was an experimental event called Cyberfest(1997).
Cyberfest screened only one film, Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey, but it was a big success and Roger and Nate Kohn began planning the first Overlooked Film Festival, with a full slate of films and guest speakers. That first festival was in 2000, and I was the webmaster.
That first festival proved that Roger could bring great films and significant filmmakers and actors to Champaign-Urbana, and that the campus, community, and region would attend and support the festival. Indeed, it became evident with that very first festival that the combination of a welcoming atmosphere of a Midwestern college town coupled with a film festival that only screened one film at a time in a big, amazing theater was a winning combination. Where many other film festivals program lots of films on numerous, competing screens, the single-film-at-a-time in one-big-theater format of Ebertfest ensures that every film gets to be front and center with a big crowd and never splits the audience, attention, and focus.
Here are some additional photos from earlier Ebertfests, a name I dubbed when I had to develop a short and memorable domain name as the festival’s first webmaster: