Photo above: Film critic Roger Ebert with reporter Heidi Chang at the 2010 Hawaii International Film Festival
Remembering “At the Movies” with Roger Ebert
By Heidi Chang, April 4, 2012
Many movie goers around the world were saddened today over the death of film critic, Roger Ebert, who had been struggling with cancer. He was 70.
On his blog, the Pulitzer Prize winning film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times recently announced he was taking a “leave of presence.” He noted a hip fracture revealed that cancer had returned, and he was undergoing treatment. Ebert had been struggling with thyroid cancer since 2002.
Generations grew up watching Ebert on TV, along with his co-host Gene Siskel, who died in 1999, and also on other shows. Whether or not the film critics gave a movie their trademark thumbs up or thumbs down, their repartee made it fascinating to watch.
Ebert was a big supporter of film festivals around the world, including the Hawaii International Film Festival (HIFF), where he received the Vision in Film Award in 2010.
But by then, Ebert could no longer speak, eat solid food or drink. And he had lost part of his lower jaw from surgery. Despite all the challenges he faced, Ebert showed us he could still communicate.
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After accepting his award, Ebert answered questions from the audience with help from his lovely wife, Chaz. The film critic would simply type in his laptop and respond with a computerized voice. He was witty and funny and entertaining. And looked happy to be back at HIFF.
In the early 1980s, Ebert played a pivotal role in helping to put HIFF on the map by writing about what he called “films from the Pacific Rim.”
“Ebert made a difference because he was the first major American film critic to write about the Hawaii International Film Festival” says Jeannette Hereniko, the festival’s founding director. “The press covered it in Asia and Hawaii, but it really wasn’t known that much in the United States, until Ebert started writing about it in the Chicago Sun-Times,” says Hereniko, who was devastated over the loss of her friend.
Ebert was also an early advocate for more diversity in film and people telling their own stories. “He loved the window that cinema provides into all cultures,” says Chuck Boller, HIFF’s current executive director. “He loved the chemistry and energy at HIFF. Everybody’s talking to everybody, waiting in line. You can see films here that you wouldn’t see anywhere else.” Boller called Ebert a mentor. “He was very supportive of HIFF’s focus on Asia Pacific cinema, and creating a Hawaii filmmaker section.” You can read Boller’s tribute to Ebert here.
Anderson Le, HIFF’s director of programming, says “Roger was always a champion of emerging filmmakers, especially of color.” Le recalls how Ebert helped launch the career of Asian American filmmaker Justin Lin on his blog post.
Hawaii’s only TV film critic, Terry Hunter, called Ebert his favorite film critic. “I’ve always admired Roger Ebert for his honest, common sense reactions to films. He was a polished writer whose work revealed a caring human being with a sharp intelligence and a terrific sense of humor. And I always knew I could trust what he wrote even when I disagreed with him (which was rare).” Hunter reflected on Ebert’s impact on HIFF. “Each year he’d conduct a seminar in which he’d offer a frame by frame analysis of a great movie, welcoming comments and questions from his audience. His love of film was infectious, his enthusiasm boundless. If you want to really understand what an amazing person he was, try reading his 2011 memoir called ‘Life Itself.'”
Earlier, Salon.com reprinted an excerpt from that memoir. Here’s Ebert in his own words:
“I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”
Thank you Roger Ebert for inspiring so many of us with all your film reviews over the years and for all the memories. Two thumbs up.
Robert Ebert’s Journal
Roger Ebert dies at 70 after battle with cancer – Chicago Sun-Times, video tribute
Roger Ebert dead: Film critic had the soul of a poet – Chicago Tribune
Roger Ebert, 1942-2013: A Critic for the Comman Man – NY Times, TimesTalks video