Film festivals have occurred on a regular basis in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, during the past 40-plus years, but none have enjoyed a long and fruitful life outside of University of Illinois-backed events such as the Insect Fear Film Festival (scaring up its 36th year in 2019) and Roger Ebert’s Film Festival (vital in its 21st year, also in 2019). We should not be surprised given the commitment required for events such as these to be stable perennials, especially when considering the transiency of college town populations. Yet, here comes the 10th annual New Art Film Festival (NAFF) for a return engagement at the The Art Theater in downtown Champaign!

We are lucky the NAFF has a good home and grateful our showcase draws a loyal audience from near and far. Yet, how exactly did the NAFF come to be despite these uncertain circumstances?

Soon-to-be owner of the Art, Sanford Hess, attended a modest event at the Caffe Paradiso coffee house on the edge of the UIUC campus in April 2009. Curated by Jason Pankoke for that year’s Boneyard Arts Festival, the C-U Confidential branded movie show provided its audience with a glimpse into the world of locally-made or -filmed material via trailers, clips, music videos, and webisodes. Impressed with the variety and vitality present in that program, Hess engaged Pankoke in conversations about exploring the concept further.


Caffe Paradiso hosted the precursor to the NAFF in 2009.


Once Hess took over operations of the Art on January 1, 2010, they decided to repeat the Boneyard feat on a grander scale as both a gesture of public support for these media artists and an open invitation for our community to engage the theater as visitors, customers, and participants in the resurgent Champaign-Urbana film culture. The first New Art Film Festival ran for nearly one week long beginning on April 15, 2010, leading right up to that year’s “Ebertfest” two blocks away at the Virginia Theatre. It presented a host of features, short subjects, and long-form documentaries produced not only by local filmmakers but creators based throughout the Midwest including Chicago, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Nashville, and Minneapolis.

The following spring, Pankoke and Hess scaled back the NAFF to a concise single-day program concentrating on downstate Illinois creativity that has proven to be the perfect fit for the Art. Not only did the NAFF become a destination event in the Boneyard Arts oeuvre, attracting a larger audience every year to the Art, but also a dependable date on the calendar around which our creative media-makers rally! Lately, the NAFF has been fulfilling local film dreams in the fall season, a robust time for special cinema events to play the Art.

Feel free to click on the poster icons below to review our past festivals. You can also write NAFF program director Pankoke using the Contact field below if you have related anecdotes, photos, or videos you’d love for us to share via this website or Facebook with NAFFanatics everywhere!


New Art Film Festival logo originally designed by Brian O’Leary/Midnight Oil Advertising.


[rev. 7-27-2019 jp]



About The NAFF

The New Art Film Festival is an annual festival showcasing local filmmakers from Champaign-Urbana, IL, and other downstate Illinois cities.

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