My Dear Roger,
As we approach the second anniversary of your death on April 4th, I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on everything that has happened since your transition. Your extraordinary life and incomparable work have been honored in ways that left me filled with gratitude, and your beautiful writing and philosophy on empathy remain as powerful and vital as ever. The following memories from the past twenty-four months have each played a role in influencing the announcement I will be making Thursday, April 2nd, that details how we plan to continue your legacy.
April 3, 2013
“A Leave of Presence.” This is the last article you wrote in celebration of your 46 years as a film critic at the Chicago Sun-Times. You insisted on calling it “A Leave of Presence” even though others thought it should be “A Leave of Absence,” since you were talking about your illness. But you ended with, “So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I’ll see you at the movies.” The next day, you passed away.
April 8, 2013
Your funeral was held at Holy Name Cathedral. Rev. John F. Costello delivered a beautiful homily, in which he discussed how you worshipped through your criticism. “In our prayers today in the soothing and reassuring Catholic Mass, we’ll say that for Roger, we believe that life for him has changed, it has not ended,” said Costello. “And that claim is made bold because of the God revealed to those who let go, turn out the light, explore with confidence the dark, and aided there by the moving images of celluloid salvation, a new God, one of ironic compassion, of overpowering generosity, of radical love emerges to invite, embrace, and welcome with savage serenity this God of Silence. I am convinced from our conversations that Roger found in darkened places, especially theatres, just such a God.”
Contrary to popular thought, you took Catholicism seriously (although it is true you had strayed). You expressed a desire to have your funeral in church, and would have been very happy to be at Holy Name Cathedral. It had been raining cats and dogs both before and after the service, but during the service, the sun shone through the stained glass windows so brightly as to elicit audible gasps from the mourners. Rev. Michael Pfleger, Governor Pat Quinn, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, Senator Dick Durbin, Jonathan Jackson and filmmaker Gregory Nava spoke.
April 9, 2013
You had planned to make an announcement about the new version of RogerEbert.com, but in light of your passing, we did a soft opening for the website. Josh Golden of Table XI showed it to you on April 2nd, and you were enthusiastic in your approval. We now have some of the best film reviewers in America (Matt Zoller Seitz, Godfrey Cheshire, Christy Lemire, Glenn Kenny, Brian Tallerico, Susan Wloszczyna, Sheila O’Malley, Odie Henderson, Peter Sobczynski and Simon Abrams), as well as your beloved Far Flung Correspondents from England, France, Australia, the Phillipines, India, Mexico, Dubai, Egypt, Canada, Brazil and even right here in the USA. We also have a rich pool of talented writers who regularly contribute to making RogerEbert.com a website you would be exceedingly proud of.
April 11, 2013
The Chicago Theatre was filled with almost 3,000 family, friends and fans at your beautiful memorial, “Roger Ebert: A Celebration of Life.” Guests included Dick Gregory, “Fugitive” director Andy Davis, Scott Wilson (“The Walking Dead”), John and Joan Cusack, Ava DuVernay (who went on to direct “Selma”), Chris Tucker, Julie Dash (“Daughters of the Dust”), Marlene Siskel, Richard Roeper, Tom Luddy (head of the Telluride Film Festival), and many, many others. We opened with a big rousing gospel number from Walt Whitman and the Soul Children of Chicago, and closed with the Grammy award-winning Charles Jenkins and the Fellowship Chicago Choir. Roger, your spirit was there! You would have loved it! No timid going out for you. They sang praises to you, to God, to the Heavens, and just rocked the audience.
The audience reacted with uproarious laughter and applause at the footage that screened of your classic movie reviews throughout the years. People in attendance loved seeing your face on the big screen. Little did they know they would get to see much more footage of you a year later, courtesy of Steve James.
It was extremely difficult to speak onstage at the end of the night, but Sonia and Jay and our grandchildren surrounded me and helped me get through it. They were such a loving anchor of support, as was the audience who were so enthusiastic in their love of you.
April 26, 2013
The night after her film, “Julia,” screened at Ebertfest, Tilda Swinton led the audience in a dance-along to Barry White’s “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything.” It was a glorious tribute to you. Ebertfest was so poignant because it was the last one you planned from beginning to end, and Tilda and I sat and sobbed as she had also recently lost her mother. It made the dancing all the more joyous. We transformed the Virginia Theater into a temple of joy!
May 15, 2013
You asked me to tweet the following words on your Twitter account, so when I did it, I didn’t use a “Chaz here.” And I think people sensed those were your words and not mine. Perhaps one day I’ll tell people about how this occurred.
May 21, 2013
I loved seeing your smiling face framed on the wall of the Roger Ebert Conference Center at the Cannes Film Festival’s American Pavilion. I decided that was the natural place to be because you and I had attended together for over twenty years. It felt so comforting to be there, and everything I saw reminded me of you.
I attended the ribbon-cutting to open the Pavilion for the season, and Lars Ulrich of Metallica stopped an interview to tell me how much your movie reviewing and philosophy meant to him over the years. I remember how much his music and philosophy meant to you too.
Annette Insdorf moderated a panel of critics including Ken Turan of the L.A. Times, Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune, and Eric Kohn of Indiewire. I could almost feel you yearning to join in the discussion. Julie Sisk gathered together 250 people on the beach to shoot a “500 Thumbs Up” salute to you. Amazing….
June 5, 2013
Robert Redford and the Sundance Institute honored you with its Vanguard Leadership Award in recognition of your tireless advocacy of independent cinema. “Roger Ebert was one of the great champions of freedom of artistic expression,” said Redford. “When the power of independent film was still unknown and few would support it, Roger was there for our artists. His personal passion for cinema was boundless, and that is sure to be his legacy for generations to come.”
That night, we announced the establishment of the Roger Ebert Scholarship for Film Criticism, selecting six scholars to cover the festival as part of the Indiewire | Sundance Institute Fellowship for Film Criticism, a workshop for aspiring film critics started by Eric Kohn, the chief film critic and senior editor of Indiewire. You believed in mentoring emerging journalists because of your own experience as a young writer, and replied to many of the letters you received from aspiring writers when they were still teens, including Slate critic Dana Stevens and Variety critic Scott Foundas.
June 27, 2013
Cinefamily partnered with Cinespia to host an archival 35mm screening of Russ Meyer’s 1970 cult classic, “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” for which you wrote the screenplay. The event took place at the Saban Theatre, a newly restored 1930 Art Deco movie palace in Los Angeles, and featured a performance by psychedelic rockers The Strawberry Alarm Clock (ever since The Strawberry Alarm Clock reunited at Ebertfest, they have been performing again all over the country). Erica Gavin and music supervisor Stu Philips were also among the guests. It was a “happening” alright, and it freaked us all out in the best way possible.
June 29, 2013
The National Society of Newspaper Columnists again awarded you first place in the category, “Online, Blog, and Multimedia Column — over 100,000 monthly unique visitors.” Slate news editor Chad Lorenz, the judge in this category, wrote, “Even in his final year, Ebert’s transcendent meditations on the pleasures of experience and the nature of human consciousness – what it truly means to exist – are a fitting coda for a life of unparalleled column writing.”
August 6, 2013
The Plaza Classic Film Festival in El Paso, Texas, presented a screening series entitled “Ebert Everlasting,” consisting of seven movies you considered among your favorites. Charles Horak, the festival’s artistic director, said that by studying these films, we can learn something about you as a human being as well as a critic. Their selections were “Citizen Kane”; “Fitzcarraldo”; “La Dolce Vita”; “The Third Man”; “Tokyo Story”; “Goodfellas”; and of course, “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.”
August 29, 2013
I was deeply touched when the board of the Telluride Film Festival announced that they would dedicate their festival’s fortieth anniversary to you. You loved going to film festivals to find little movie gems and always had a soft spot for Telluride in particular. You admired the wide diversity of films and the fact that, in many cases, it offered attendees their only chance to see certain important retrospectives. You would have loved to see the opening of the festival’s new 650-seat theater named after one of your favorite filmmakers, Werner Herzog. An anonymous donor also named a section of the theater after you. So when entering, you see your name prominently displayed.
September 5, 2013
The Toronto International Film Festival opened with a film tribute dedicated to you. From its inception in 1976, you recognized the festival’s potential as a multifaceted launch pad for both Hollywood blockbusters and art house gems from around the world, later calling it, “the most important in North America.” The festival presented me with a commemorative plaque, a replica of one that has been installed on a chair named in your honor inside TIFF Bell Lightbox’s Cinema One, TIFF’s year-round home and marquee cinema.
October 4, 2013
Recalling how touched you and I were when actor Rob Schneider sent you flowers when you were in the hospital, I wanted to know his side of that story, as I’m sure it wasn’t easy for him that his film, “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo,” inspired the title of your book, “Your Movie Sucks.” I sent him some questions, and he gave me a long, heartfelt answer that resulted in the essay, “One Act of Kindness.” He found serenity in Zen Buddhism.
October 10, 2013
The Chicago International Film Festival paid tribute to you prior to its opening night screening at the Chicago Theatre. “Roger has been an integral part of the Chicago International Film Festival from its earliest days,” said Festival Founder and Artistic Director Michael Kutza. “He long supported our mission of introducing Chicago moviegoers to the newest and brightest filmmakers from around the world. He leaves a strong legacy not only through his website, RogerEbert.com, where a large roster of top critics continue in his footsteps, but in the works of many filmmakers who fell in love with the movies through his reviews.”
October 14, 2013
Hawaii was the place where you and I fell in love, and it was also the location for one of our most relaxing film festivals. I cherished the opportunity to participate in the Hawaiian International Film Festival’s special panel discussion, “Mahalo, Roger! A Tribute to Roger Ebert,” alongside Ebertfest director Nate Kohn, HIFF executive director Chuck Boller, HIFF founder Jeannette Paulson-Hereniko and other friends.
October 17, 2013
The Society for Features Journalism awarded you first place for General Commentary in the 2013 Excellence in Feature Writing Contest, citing your essays “A Natural History,” “Books Do Furnish a Mind” and “I Remember You.” “Roger Ebert’s writing and criticism was always insightful, funny and accessible,” the judges said in choosing your work for the award, “and his entry in this year’s contest showed a writer at the top of his game. Judging blindly didn’t work in this instance. Ebert’s work was obviously Ebert, and it was head and shoulders above the other nominees.”
October 25, 2013
Twenty years after its first performance, your ten-minute play, “Sex, Lies and Theatrical,” was performed by a cast of professionals at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theatre. You based the play on the true life exploits of your good friends, Dusty Cohl, the founder of the Toronto Film Festival, and Billy “Silver Dollar” Baxter, a producer and all around character who was helping Dusty sell a movie about a Canadian orphan at the Cannes Film Festival. It was a delight to see your words come to life onstage. Currently, there is a movement underfoot to bring this production to the big screen as a short. Mais Oui Monsieur!
November 19, 2013
Another memorable panel was held by the Arts Club of Chicago, which honored your legacy as a longtime member with a discussion that included Barbara Scharres, the Director of Programming at the Gene Siskel Film Center; Milos Stehlik, Director of Facets Multi-Media; and Michael Phillips, film critic for the Chicago Tribune. The recently deceased Andrew Patner, author and WFMT classical music critic and commentator, served as the moderator.
January 19, 2014
Watching the “Life Itself” premiere at the Sundance Film Festival was a bittersweet experience for me, mostly because you weren’t there to share it with me. Still, I found great joy in a movie that showed a side of you the public rarely sees: your life as a family man and loving grandfather. One scene that made me tear up was our granddaughter Raven talking about how much you taught her about movies, books and life. You were such an important part of our grandchildren’s lives.
The film, directed by esteemed documentarian Steve James at Kartemquin, was picked up for distribution by Magnolia Pictures, and was also generously supported by CNN Films (a new venture for Jeff Zucker), and by Michael Ferro of the Chicago Sun-Times. This project was a direct result of producer Garrett Basch reading your memoir, “Life Itself,” and suggesting to his producing partner, Steve Zaillian (“Schindler’s List,” “Moneyball”) that your life would make a great documentary. They were right. The screening marked the first time in the history of Sundance that they allowed a movie to be streamed to fans at home the same night it made its world premiere at the festival.
I was so excited to welcome the first class of the Ebert Scholars at Sundance. I made sure to give them all a copy of your cookbook, “The Pot and How To Use It,” and told them how we used to take a rice cooker to Sundance to cook quick, healthy meals in between the movies. They couldn’t have been more receptive. And I couldn’t have been more impressed with their writing and maturity and their overall kindness. I think they will all go out and do great things. Below is a picture of five of the six recipients of the Roger Ebert Scholarship for Film Criticism. In alphabetical order, the 2014 recipients were: Carlos Aguilar, Kyle Burton, Robert Cameron Fowler, Katherine Kilkenny, Emma Myers and Mary Sollosi.
February 1, 2014
The African American Film Critics Association gave the first “Roger Ebert Award” to chief film critic of Variety, Justin Chang. Chang said: “Roger really stood for diversity. He was a voice and an advocate and he did it effortlessly and with great sensitivity and grace.” Chang also got a laugh from the audience as he remarked, “I’m probably the first Asian-American critic receiving an award named after a white critic from an African-American critics group.”
February 8, 2014
During Black History Month, RogerEbert.com partnered with the Chicago Urban League and Columbia College’s youth journalism program Columbia Links to mentor high school students with aspirations to be film critics. Each week, students from Chicago area high schools were invited to screenings of films about the diverse life experiences of African American teens, encompassing everything from educational aspirations to attitudes and biases about skin color outside of and within the Black American culture. They were then encouraged to write reviews of the films and I had our editors give constructive feedback before we published them at RogerEbert.com. At the end of our session, I took them to dinner at the University Club to celebrate. Roger, when I meet young people such as these, I have high hopes for the future!
February 11, 2014
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, honored you with its Lifetime Achievement Award, which I accepted on your behalf. Rich Martin, the Head of the Department of Journalism, was a part of the faculty that voted unanimously to honor you the previous spring, intending to announce the honor at Ebertfest. Your passing altered the plans but the intentions remained. You were the first University of Illinois alumnus to receive the honor and only the sixth journalist overall, joining Ben Bradlee, Seymour Hersh, Gay Talese, Nina Totenberg and Mike Wallace. Milos Stehlik of Facets gave one of the best tributes to you ever, as he did at the Chicago Theatre Memorial Service. The audience was visibly moved by the depth of his passion for what he said you brought to the film industry and to life itself.
March 2, 2014
Our grandson Mark-Taylor accompanied me to the Oscars, and I squeezed his hand way too hard when they flashed your photograph across the screen during the “In Memoriam” segment. (It was one of my favorite pictures of you.) They made an announcement admonishing the audience in the Dolby Theatre not to clap. I guess they wanted to prevent what has happened in the past, with some actors or directors being applauded wildly, while some lesser known people received little applause. They have a point; it is not a popularity contest. Or perhaps they just wanted to confer a solemn dignity on the proceedings. I don’t know. All I know is that sometimes the audience didn’t comply, like in the beginning, when they clapped for James Gandolfini. I took note of the applause for you, and it touched my heart. As did the standing ovation the audience gave for all who’d been lost over the last year.
I was resolute in my determination not to cry when they showed your photo. And other than squeezing Taylor’s hand, I pretty much lived up to that resolution. It occurred to me that this was the first time you’d been “seen” inside the theater proper during the broadcast of the Academy Awards. You were usually huddled in the press room with the other journalists writing on deadline. I always admired your work ethic. I thought the segment was over, and didn’t count on the Academy programming Bette Midler on stage to sing her hit “The Wind Beneath My Wings” to close out In Memoriam. That is when my resolve went out the window. “Did you ever know that you’re my hero,” Midler rang out so clear and beautifully. The tears flowed. Even before you became ill, you used to tell me that I was the wind beneath your wings, and I used to tell you that you were my hero. We sang that song together, goofing over the treacly-sweet nature of it, but loving it all the same. It was a good thing I was wearing waterproof mascara. Taylor, being the gentleman he is, offered me his handkerchief. Samuel L. Jackson patted me comfortingly on the shoulder.
April 4, 2014
Love Itself: My Year Without Roger
One year later, I finally had to adjust to the word “Widow.”
There were a series of articles written about you by our contributors and others, including this one by Richard Roeper…
“At least once every few weeks on ‘Ebert & Roeper,’ Roger’s take on a movie would be a surprise. He’d champion something I was sure he wouldn’t care for, or he’d come down hard on a film I expected him to embrace. But I think he would have loved ‘Mud,’ and I believe he would have been overjoyed to see the renaissance in McConaughey’s career as the actor reached his full potential with this little film, his Oscar-winning turn in ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ and his Emmy-worthy performance in HBO’s ‘True Detective.’ (I would have hounded Roger to watch the show.)
What would Roger say? What would Roger write? What would Roger’s take be? Those thoughts cross my mind nearly every time I exit a screening. […] When I stood nearly alone as a fan of Ridley Scott’s ‘The Counselor,’ would Roger have countered with one of his trademark ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’ looks before shredding the film—or would he have explained, in a far better manner than I could ever muster, why he loved it too?”
Contributors to RogerEbert.com and members of your beloved Ebert Club also marked the first year of your passing with tributes. The following picture was created by our Far-Flung Correspondent, Krishna Shenoi.
April 23, 2014
Ebertfest 2014 was another beautiful tribute to you, opening with perhaps the most emotional screening of “Life Itself.” The laughter was so boisterous that it frequently drowned out the words of the film’s subjects, especially during the footage of your timeless banter with Gene Siskel. During the wrenching scenes of your hospital procedures, you could hear a pin drop in the Virginia Theater. And when the lights went up, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. I loved how your longtime friend, Bill Nack, delivered, by heart, the final words of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” a passage you had always asked him to recite: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
Michael Mirasol’s Ebertfest trailer played before each screening, and received a round of applause each time, deservedly so.
Other guests at the festival besides Steve James were Spike Lee with the 25th anniversary of “Do The Right Thing,” Oliver Stone with the 25th anniversary of “Born On The Fourth of July,” Bennett Miller with “Capote,” Patton Oswalt with “Young Adult,” Brie Larson with “Short Term 12,” and many others. One of the warmest standing ovations was for Haifaa Al-Mansour’s “Wadjda,” the first feature shot entirely in Saudi Arabia by a female filmmaker.
April 24, 2014
With the sun peering from behind the clouds and Vivaldi’s “Allegro Non Multo” playing in the background, the sculpture of you by the accomplished artist Rick Carney was unveiled outside of the Virginia Theatre. Donna Anderson thought of this tribute to you when she was in the hospital for a heart transplant. She was determined to make it happen. And her equally determined husband Scott Anderson saw it through. So this statue is literally from the heart! I am so grateful to them all.
May 19, 2014
“Life Itself” premiered at the Cannes Film Festival with additional footage of your experiences covering the festival. Steve James and I did an impromptu Q&A with the audience after the projector broke two-thirds of the way through, thus making it the sort of festival screening you deemed the most memorable.
June 18, 2014
Filmmakers Werner Herzog and didn’t make the Oscar nominations. It was pretty shocking to all. But we were all so grateful for the accolades the film did receive. I know that where you are, you have no need for trophies, but I was disappointed for Steve James and the whole team who had worked so hard on the movie and made one that is Oscar-worthy.
A few days later, I wrote a piece called, “Gratitude,” to thank the team for their accomplishments.
January 22, 2015
This year, we chose four recipients for the Roger Ebert Scholarship for Film Criticism (Anish Jhaveri, Ibad Shah, An Banh and Sterlin Johnson). They attended the Sundance Film Festival, providing excellent coverage for both Indiewire and RogerEbert.com. Roger, it is my hope that some of these emerging writers and filmmakers will carry on work that brings out the empathy that you say is so essential. If even one person does it, it will all be worthwhile! Look at this photo, you can’t help but love them!
January 24, 2015
“Life Itself” was named the Best Documentary of 2014 by the Producer’s Guild of America. It was the latest in a series of Best Documentary accolades from groups that included the Critics Choice Awards; the Chicago Film Critics Association; New York Film Critics Online; the National Board of Review; the African American Film Critics Association; the Golden Tomato Award for Best Documentary; Boston Online Film Critics; American Film Festival in Oklahoma Film Critics Circle; Philadelphia Inquirer; and Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association. It was also nominated and made the Best Films Lists of so many organizations both in and outside of the country. You would have been so proud.
January 29, 2015
“Life Itself” played to rave reviews at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
February 4, 2015
The African American Film Critics Association honored “Life Itself” with its Best Documentary award. They also gave the second “Roger Ebert Award,” this time to Susan King of the LA Times.
February 9, 2015
RogerEbert.com partnered again with the Chicago Urban League and Columbia Links to present reviews written by high school students. The films focused on issues of race and class from a variety of perspectives. They included “The Homestretch” by Anne de Mare and Kirsten Kelly, “Smile” by Marquis Daisy, “Afraid of Dark” by Mya B. and “The N Word” by Todd Williams. Click here for the table of contents.
February 21, 2015
At the Film Independent Spirit Awards, the Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation awarded a cash grant of $10,000 to Christina Choe, a participant in the Film Independent Artist Development program, currently in preproduction on her first narrative feature film, “Nancy.”
February 22, 2015
Though “Life Itself” didn’t receive a golden statue at the Oscars, I did get to kick back and relax at the Golden Door in San Marcos, California.
April 15-19, 2015
And finally, once again, we’re looking forward to Ebertfest. When we started this film festival seventeen years ago in 1999, we could not guess what road lay ahead.
Roger, your legacy continues to help guide writers and artists to reach for greatness, champion empathy and illuminate hidden truths in the human experience. Your voice is still a vital part of the critical discourse, and on April 2nd, it will be my honor to announce our plans for keeping your legacy alive for future generations to come.
Eternal love, Chaz