The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Ebertfest day 4 showcases locally produced ‘Albany Road,’ shines spotlight on indie films

The Virginia Theatre buzzed excitedly for the premiere of “Albany Road,” a new picture directed by Christine Swanson, on Saturday, the final day of Ebertfest.

Before the showing, Chaz Ebert, businesswoman and widow of esteemed film critic Roger Ebert, presented the Golden Thumb award to a few collaborators. First was Rick Carney, the artist behind the sculpture of Roger Ebert in front of the Virginia Theatre.

He (Carney) made a mockup, and at first, it was going to be just a chair and Roger, but he said, ‘You know what, when people see this, people are going to want to sit next to him,’” Chaz Ebert said. “So, he said, ‘Let’s expand it,’ and that’s why there are the three chairs, and I love it.”

Afterward, Swanson was also commended with a Golden Thumb. On stage, she shared some anecdotes about the production of “Albany Road,” highlighting her experience working in Champaign and the city’s future in filmmaking. 

If you believe it here, the world’s going to believe it, and if the world believes it, that means Champaign — you’ve got something to show,” Swanson said. “Now, you have a sound stage, and now, you’re going to have a film that’s the poster child for shooting in Champaign. I think more productions are going to come this way.”

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Swanson was referring to the sound stage being built in Rantoul for Flyover Film Studios, which “Albany Road” producers Brett Hays and Sarah Sharp are also part of.

Swanson also touched on working with her husband, producer Michael Swanson. Both parties of the filmmaking marriage were in attendance, with Christine cracking jokes about how her husband financially helped with the movie.

Michael is my amazing husband and producer of this movie. I pitched to him, ‘Hey, I think we should pull money from our house and make a movie,’” Swanson said, “Long story short, he was supportive, and it took us a minute to get here, but this is truly an independent film.”

Indeed independent in its entirety, Swanson pointed out how the movie had no input from “Hollywood studio execs.” It allowed creative decisions to flow more freely, producing a film with a lot of heart. 

As mentioned before, most of “Albany Road” was filmed in Champaign. Certain well-known locations are featured, like Willard Airport, which looks like an unnamed New York City airport.

“Albany Road” is a drama centered around a tumultuous road trip between a New York executive and her former nemesis, which sparks emotional discoveries. The movie features “Hamilton” star Renée Elise Goldsberry and legendary actress Lynn Whitfield.

Audience member and artist Marquis Harmon gave his opinion on the movie, emphasizing the importance of seeing Black stories on film.

The narrative of the Black family and Black community — they were so there, and they were so universal like they were normalized in a way that others could feel it; I could personally connect with it,” Harmon said. “It was a phenomenal film — phenomenal film for Black representation.”

Other “Albany Road” collaborators from behind the scenes were present in the audience for the premiere, such as film composer Leon Lacey.

“The director, Christine, was so instrumental in letting me know, ‘We want this type of sound,’” Lacey said. “From reading the script, I was like, ‘Yeah, this lady is talented.’ So from paper to screen, it was big to see the actors because you make music to scenery, to emotions.” 

As it was the final day of this year’s Ebertfest, Chaz Ebert thanked the support of long-time film enthusiasts. She even gave special recognition to audience members who attended Ebertfest every year, telling them to stand up amidst the theater’s applause. Among the recognized was long-time festival-goer Perry Morris.

“I’ve been coming to at least one or two films every year for the whole 25 years,” Morris said. “It’s a good opportunity for me, who is not necessarily adventurous in choosing movies. I will experience things that I’m not going to go out and see on my own, and it’s just a wonderful atmosphere.”


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