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Film Critic Roger Ebert To Make First Public Appearance Since Surgery

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) _ Film critic Roger Ebert says he won't miss his annual film festival, despite the advice from some who said he should sit out this year.

The 64-year-old's participation at his annual film festival Wednesday night was expected to be his first public appearance since a cancerous growth was removed from his salivary gland last June. Doctors removed a portion of his jaw in the process and needed to perform a tracheostomy to allow him to breathe. It has left him unable to speak.

``I was told photos of me in this condition would attract the gossip papers,'' he wrote in a column in Tuesday's Chicago Sun-Times. ``So what?''

``To paraphrase a line from 'Raging Bull,' I ain't a pretty boy no more,'' Ebert wrote.

Friends who plan to be at the opening of Ebert's ninth annual Overlooked Film Festival say it will be good to see the critic easing back into action.

``I think it'll be great for him, sort of charge up his batteries,'' said Jim Emerson of Seattle, who has worked with Ebert for years and now edits his Web site.

Ebert will watch the movies _ including opening night's ``Gattaca'' _ from a recliner. That means he won't take his customary place on stage introducing films and leading post-showing discussions, festival director Nate Kohn said.

That said, Ebert is ``participating in every way except going on stage,'' according to Kohn. ``He's doing everything he normally does in terms of selecting the films.''

Along with ``Gattaca,'' this year's festival is also scheduled to include screenings of ``La Dolce Vita,'' ``Come Early Morning,'' and ``Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,'' the 1970 film that Ebert co-wrote.

Panels made up of Ebert's colleagues will conduct discussions about the movies, Kohn said. Many of the movies will be introduced by actors who were in them or by their directors. Alan Rickman, for instance, is expected to introduce ``Perfume: The Story of a Murderer'' on Thursday night.

The festival, intended to feature a broad range of films that Ebert believes are in some way overlooked, is always held in Champaign and Urbana. The latter is Ebert's hometown, and the University of Illinois, his alma mater, straddles the boundary between the cities.

Ebert has written that he hopes an upcoming operation will restore his speech.

He's penned occasional movie reviews since last summer, and has called his return to the festival a starting point on the road back to full-time film criticism in print and on the syndicated ``Ebert & Roeper'' TV show.

Ebert has been a Sun-Times' film critic since 1967.
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