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CONTACT: Craig Chamberlain, Social Sciences Editor, 217-333-2894

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Aretha Franklin died last August, but she’ll be lighting up the big screen at the 21st annual Roger Ebert’s Film Festival, or “Ebertfest,” coming April 10-13 to Champaign-Urbana and the University of Illinois.

The Franklin concert film “Amazing Grace,” shot nearly 50 years ago but stored in a vault for decades and now restored and released, will kick off this year’s festival – followed by a live performance by a community choir.

The live performance will come from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Choir of Champaign-Urbana, directed by Noah Brown, Audrey Mock and Terry Napper. The choir was founded 34 years ago and sings annually at celebrations of MLK Day.

Following the choir’s performance will be an onstage Q&A with “Amazing Grace” producers Elliott and Tirrell D. Whittley.

“Most years our opening night film has been a 70 mm celluloid. This year it will be 70 mm of soul,” said festival co-founder and host Chaz Ebert. “Instead of ending this year’s Ebertfest with a musical, as per tradition, we are opening it on a glorious, gospel-infused high note, thanks to Alan Elliott’s pristine restoration of a Sydney Pollack-directed film chronicling the gospel performance of the ‘Queen of Soul’ over two days in Los Angeles in 1972.”

Film critic Odie Henderson, in a four-star review of “Amazing Grace” for Rogerebert.com, called the film “a powerful love letter to the black church, offering a soul-shaking introduction for the unfamiliar and a grandmotherly yank of the arm for those who know – it drags you from the theater straight into the pews.”

Previously announced for this year’s festival was “A Year of the Quiet Sun” (1984), a post-World War II romance starring the late Scott Wilson, who had been a frequent Ebertfest guest. Organizers also announced that this year’s festival will celebrate the on-air partnership of Roger Ebert and Chicago Sun-Times film critic Richard Roeper in “Ebert & Roeper” and also involve Roeper in the selection of two films.

Other films and the screening schedule will be announced in coming weeks.

Source: Illinois News Bureau

Click here for more information about the 21st Annual Roger Ebert’s Film Festival schedule.