CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — The annual Ebertfest is approaching, and the College of Media at the University of Illinois has announced this year’s theme, some of the films that will be shown and a few special guests.

The featured guest of this year’s festival will be Frank Oz, actor, director and puppeteer. Oz is known for creating and performing many characters on The Muppet Show and Sesame Street, as well as Yoda in the Star Wars franchise. He’s also directed films like Little Shop of Horrors, What About Bob? and The Stepford Wives.

“We are eager to welcome this special guest whose work is the very embodiment of empathy,” said Chaz Ebert, festival founder and widow of Roger Ebert.

Empathy is the central component of this year’s theme: Empathy at the Movies. Chaz said that it was her husband’s guiding principle.

“For me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy,” Roger said prior to his death in 2013. “If it’s a great movie, it lets you understand a little bit more about what it’s like to be a different gender, a different race, a different age, a different economic class, a different nationality, a different profession, different hopes, aspirations, dreams, and fears.”

“Empathy can be generated through pathos and humor and by sharing communal experiences,” said Chaz. “This year in Roger’s memory we will gather together in what Roger has called the temple of cinema to reaffirm our connections to each other.”

Oz will be accompanying the screening of his latest film Derek DelGaudio’s In & Of Itself, which he directed in 2020. DelGaudio and Janet Pierson, director emeritus of SXSW Film Festival, will also be in attendance.

In addition to Oz’s film, the College of Media announced several other films that will be shown and the accompanying guests:

  • Wings of Desire (1987) and Michael Barker, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics
  • Marian Anderson: The Whole World in Her Hands (2022), with director Rita Coburn and producer Brenda Robinson
  • Nine Days (2020)
  • Tokyo Story (1953), selected by the Ebertfest audience choice movie poll
  • The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and the Anvil Orchestra, a continuation of Ebertfest’s inclusion of live music with a silent film

Additional films and guests will be announced in the coming weeks.

All-movie tickets are currently available for purchase online or at the Virginia Theatre box office. Individual movie tickets will go on sale on April 3.

Ebertfest will take place at the Virginia Theatre from April 19 to 22.