He may be the world’s best-known film critic, but the movies that Roger Ebert is most interested in celebrating at his annual Ebertfest are far from household titles. In fact, “overlooked” is the adjective Ebert himself would use to describe these films, which make up the program of the five-day fest, which kicks off on April 23rd at the Virginia Theatre in Champaign, Illinois.

Just days before Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet opened the fest’s 10th annual event, MM caught up with Ebert to discuss what inspired him to create the fest and this year’s lineup of underrated features.

Jennifer Wood (MM): In addition to exposing audiences to some great movies, Ebertfest seems to shine a light on the very serious fact that movies today are not given a chance to find their legs in theaters. Was the changing world of film distribution a factor in the creation of Ebertfest? Considering the number of sold-out screenings, it seems obvious that audiences are hungry for more than what they can find at the local cineplex.

Roger Ebert (RE): As a critic I saw one great film after another that I wanted to drag people to, so they could share the experience. This festival seemed an inspired solution.

MM: From a moviegoing standpoint, do you think we’ll ever see another Bonnie and Clyde—a movie that is given a second life based on great reviews (yours included) and word of mouth alone? Or does advertising play too much of a role in today’s world to let that be the case?

RE: Ads open movies. Love makes them live. Greatness makes them immortal.

MM: Was there one particular film that really served as the impetus for Ebertfest? What’s the one film that is truly deserving as the gold standard of “overlooked” movies?

RE: Gates of Heaven by Errol Morris, a documentary about pet cemeteries. Who’s gonna think they want to see that?

MM: What’s great about your event is that it’s really about your personal tastes—there’s no agenda to program X number of blockbusters, X number of documentaries, etc. But in the 10 years you’ve been putting on the fest—and the 40-plus years you’ve been writing about film—do you think there is an obvious bias toward any one type of film?

RE: Quirky individual explosions of the need to make a film.

MM: In terms of variety, this year’s lineup succeeds yet again—from Ang Lee’s Hulk to Tarsem Singh’s The Cell, you’ve got your big-budget would-be blockbusters in there as well as some of this year’s festival favorites, like The Real Dirt on Farmer John and Canvas. But if you were forced to show only one film—and it had to be a film that came out in the past 12 months—what would you show and why?

RE: No parent has a favorite child.

Ebertfest runs April 23 – 27, 2008. Visit www.ebertfest.com for more information.