"I think of the festival as the first step on my return to action," Ebert wrote in a column celebrating his 40th anniversary as film critic at the Chicago Sun-Times. The column was posted Tuesday on his Web site.
Ebert said he'll watch the ninth annual Overlooked Film Festival, which begins April 25 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, from the audience, with colleagues taking over onstage duties. He cannot speak due to a tracheostomy, a procedure that opens an airway through an incision in the windpipe.
"Because I'll be under scrutiny there, I'll tell you what to expect: a sick guy, getting better, who still loves the movies and the festival," said Ebert, 64, co-host of the "Ebert & Roeper" television show.
The festival, popularly known as "Ebertfest," wouldn't be the same without Ebert there, said Mary Susan Britt, assistant festival director.
"It's just fantastic, we're so thrilled," Britt said.
Ebert had surgery last June 16 to remove a cancerous growth on his salivary gland. He also had emergency surgery July 1 after a blood vessel burst near the site of the operation.
He had undergone cancer surgery three times before the June operation once in 2002 to remove a malignant tumor on his thyroid gland and twice on his salivary gland the next year.
"I was planning to be back in action in a few weeks, but unfortunately, there were complications, and more medical procedures resulted," said Ebert, whose hospitalization was followed by a stay at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and the Pritikin Center in Florida, where he remains.
Ebert said he won't be able to speak until "upcoming completion surgery." He also thanked his wife, doctors and nurses.
"This has been a long and unexpected ordeal," he said. "I am feeling better every day and my wife Chaz says we can see the light at the end of the tunnel."
In Tuesday's column, titled "40 Years Is Not Enough," Ebert said he'll gradually increase his duties in upcoming months.
"I still love writing about the movies," Ebert said.
Ebert has been a film critic at the Sun-Times since 1967. He won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 1975, the same year he teamed up with Gene Siskel of the rival Chicago Tribune to launch their movie-review show. Siskel died in 1999.
He has co-hosted the show with fellow Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper since 2000. Film critics and filmmakers have been subbing for Ebert during his recovery.