Grady’s Nate Kohn completes 19th year directing Roger Ebert’s Festival

Roger Ebert’s Film Festival, named after renowned film critic Roger Ebert, wrapped up its 19th season this past weekend.

At the helm this year and for the past 18 years was Grady College’s Nate Kohn, associate director of the Peabody Awards and EMST professor. In addition to serving as the director of the Ebert festival, Kohn helped start the festival in 1999.

The festival, also known as Ebertfest, was created to focus on films that the Chicago Sun-Times film critic believed were overlooked by audiences, distributors and critics.

“The festival was originally called Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival,” Kohn said. “We also viewed it as Roger’s gift to his hometown.”

The festival is held in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, at the University of Illinois. Ebert grew up in Urbana, as did Kohn. Both attended Urbana High School. Until his death in 2013, Ebert chose all the films with the help of his wife, Chaz Ebert, and Kohn. Now Chaz Ebert and Kohn select the films based on criteria established by Roger Ebert.

In 2014, Chaz Ebert was a guest at Grady College for a screening of the film “Life Itself,” Steve James’ award-winning documentary on the life of Roger Ebert.

There is a mixture of old and new films at the festival. “It’s a chance to showcase films that deserve a second look or that got no look in the first place,” Kohn said.

This year’s festival included some high-profile guests including Academy Award-nominated French actress Isabelle Huppert and iconic TV show creator Norman Lear, who was just named an upcoming recipient of an Peabody Individual Award. Films screened this year at Ebertfest included Huppert’s “Elle,” Lear’s autobiography “Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You,” Milos Forman’s “Hair,” and Chan-wook Park’s “The Handmaiden.”