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Ebertfest seeks younger audience

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Ebertfest seeks younger audience

Roger Ebert interviews at a Chicago public radio station on Sound Opinions program in 2006.

Roger Ebert interviews at a Chicago public radio station on Sound Opinions program in 2006.

Photo Courtesy of Sound Opinions

Roger Ebert interviews at a Chicago public radio station on Sound Opinions program in 2006.

Photo Courtesy of Sound Opinions

Photo Courtesy of Sound Opinions

Roger Ebert interviews at a Chicago public radio station on Sound Opinions program in 2006.

By Tommy Block, Columnist

April 13 marked my second trip to Ebertfest, the annual film festival held at the Virginia Theatre in honor of the late movie critic Roger Ebert. Until an announcement during the festival, I thought it would be my last.

Before the final screening of the 2019 schedule, festival co-founder Chaz Ebert, Roger’s and the widow, co-founder festival’s and host, announced to an anxious crowd that she’d heard some gossip claiming Ebertfest, which has been around since 1999, would not be returning in 2020.

“I just want to tell you that I want you to join me back here next year,” she said. Her voice was as comforting as if she were assuring an old friend.

In a way, she was. It was an admittedly older audience that went to see Alexander Payne’s “Sideways” that night, but it was no less lively; it was obvious they grew up reading Roger’s reviews. Later, a panel of critics recalled some of their favorite Roger Ebert lines, and the crowd responded with such warm laughter that their memories could almost be seen drifting through the air, from person to person.

I believe that love of film and appreciation for life in general, sprouts from shared moments like these. As very lucky students of the University (Roger’s own alma mater), we have the opportunity to experience one at Ebertfest next year, right next door.

In a digital era when print news is rendered obsolete, younger generations (even college kids) may not be familiar with Roger’s contributions to journalism. He was a film critic at the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013.

Critics are sometimes thought of as people who are determined to hate whatever they see. Roger sure did hate some films, a couple of which inspired his funniest reviews (see “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo,”). Even stronger, though, was his adoration of cinema. Not only did he voice his thoughts on films, but he set out to convince readers why they mattered.

Students of all disciplines can learn something from his writing. He had the focus of an engineer, the cogency of a teacher and the passion of an artist. He dwelled on movies that he felt others were too afraid to take a chance on (Ebertfest began as “Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival”), but he wasn’t too uptight to endorse a mindless action flick if it was fun enough.

To him, a conversation could relay just as much information as an essay. He’d tell you about how a movie melted his heart, and in doing so, he just about melted yours. I swear his review of “The Third Man” is as moving as the movie itself.

Do yourself a favor and read Roger’s reviews of some of the films that were shown at this year’s festival (like “Almost Famous,” or “Sideways”). If you’re a writer like me, you’ll be amazed by his lingual dexterity. If you’re a psychology major, maybe you’ll be struck by the emotions he illustrates so vividly. Or if you’re a film major, maybe you’ll look at the movie itself in another light. Whatever kind of person you are, you’ll discover once more the spirit of cinema and the plain, simple magic it can touch audiences with.

What should you do after you mull that over? Mark your calendars for the next Ebertfest: April 15 through 18, 2020.

Tommy is a sophomore in Engineering.

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