One of the most celebrated film critics of all time, Roger Ebert, has passed away at age 70.
A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who started off in newspapers, he made the transition to television in 1975 with the program At the Movies with his fellow critic Gene Siskel, which made both men into household names.
Approval from Ebert and his sidekick not only could influence mainstream box office fare but also deliver ticket buyers to more daring, artistic works that relied upon critical word-of-mouth. This was how Ebert, with other critics, successfully encouraged audiences to seek out independent films, which in recent decades have come to dominate the Academy Awards.
To encourage its theatrical prospects, Ebert glowingly reviewed the unknown documentary Hoop Dreams before the independent film found a distributor. From nowhere it would be awarded the Academy-Award for Best Documentary that year and remains once of the most acclaimed films of the last 25 years.
Ebert remained a champion of quality movies that had failed to attract wide attention. In 1999, he launched a film festival now known as Ebertfest, an annual celebration of usually independently financed films staged at his alma mater, the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana.
At the 2009 Ebertfest, Ebert and his wife, Chaz, announced that they had given the university a $1-million gift toward the creation of a film studies program.
US President Barack Obama issued a statement last night, praising the writer for “capturing the unique power of the movies to take us somewhere magical.”
“Michelle and I are saddened to hear about the passing of Roger Ebert. For a generation of Americans – and especially Chicagoans – Roger was the movies. When he didn’t like a film, he was honest; when he did, he was effusive – capturing the unique power of the movies to take us somewhere magical. Even amidst his own battles with cancer, Roger was as productive as he was resilient – continuing to share his passion and perspective with the world. The movies won’t be the same without Roger, and our thoughts and prayers are with Chaz and the rest of the Ebert family.”
And as Ebert said in his last blog post, “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.”
About the Contributor
Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. He has been shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize and was named a finalist for the 2015 Young Bookseller of the Year Award. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.
Follow Andrew: Twitter