Ebert’s Film Festival Goes On, Without Namesake

The film festival celebrates its 15th anniversary without its founder

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AP / The News-Gazette, Robert K. O'Daniell

In this April 27, 2011 file photo, film critic Roger Ebert welcomes people to the opening of the 13th annual Ebertfest film festival on the University of Illinois campus in Champaign.

The late Roger Ebert was known as much for his love of cinema as he was for his brilliant (and often caustic) reviews. In the course of his work, he saw many films he felt never had a real chance to score with audiences. So, in 1999, he started Roger Ebert’s Film Festival (aka “Ebertfest”), an annual event held on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In his very first welcome message, Ebert wrote that he wanted the festival to give those movies a second chance to find their potential fans:

I hope that translates into good audiences at the Virginia theater. The great French director Francois Truffaut once said that to see the most beautiful sight in a movie theater, you have to walk up to the front, turn around, and look at the light from the screen as it is reflected from the upturned faces. It is even more beautiful if the light falls from good films finding the audiences they deserve.

Now in its 15th year, the festival, running from April 17 through 21, opened with the same mission—but without its legendary creator. As the Chicago Sun-Times reports, Ebert’s widow Chaz Ebert, has assumed the role of festival host.

(MORE: Richard Corliss Remembers Roger Ebert)

Among the movies screening at this year’s event—all of which were seen and selected by Ebert—are a dozen features (including Days of HeavenBernieBlancanievesKumaré and The Spectacular Now) and two shorts. There are also a number of panel discussions.

So what is the future of the festival in the wake of its founder’s (and chief programmer’s) recent passing?

Associate Festival Director Mary Susan Britt shared with TIME news that will make cineastes happy. Though she did not specify any more details, she was firm about one thing: “[Ebertfest] will continue for many years.”

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