On April 4, we lost a great friend of our university -- Roger Ebert. Always the consummate ambassador, Roger was a generous donor and more broadly a lifelong representative of the values upon which we were founded. We will miss him. As I hope you have heard, Ebertfest will go on as planned next week (April 17-21) with Roger’s wife, Chaz, hosting the event. While his absence will echo throughout the festival, it is a wonderful opportunity for this campus and community to remember and honor Roger Ebert. And, the sadness will be tempered by the news that the festival will continue for years to come with Chaz Ebert’s continued involvement.
He really represented the Illinois attitude of innovation and hard work. An Urbana resident and the child of a bookkeeper and an electrician, he started his career as a journalism major here. And by the time of his death last week, he had redefined film criticism and changed the way a nation looks at movies. Winning the first Pulitzer in criticism given for movie reviews and crossing over into television in a way we’d never imagined possible, he revolutionized the way we understand film. While the medium has always had some section of the population that considered it a true art form, he played a pivotal role in bringing that appreciation out of the classroom and into daily life.
Next week’s festival is again bringing that point home – and once more putting a national spotlight on the College of Media, Illinois and our entire community. For another week in April, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will be a haven for people who love movies. And what a wonderful lineup of movies, and of people who were in some way responsible for those movies, we have this year.
From “Not Yet Begun to Fight” that considers the power of flyfishing as a recovery tool for injured soldiers, to Jack Black and “Bernie,” and Tilda Swinton and “Julia,” every day at the Virginia Theater offers a different perspective. I know the full festival passes are long sold-out and single movie passes may be hard to come by. But, as anyone who has attended past festivals will tell you, never give up hope of getting a seat until the film has started running. The Virginia maintains a waiting list (www.thevirginia.org) and there is always the rush ticket line that begins selling any empty seats shortly before a film runs. If we’ve learned one thing about passionate moviegoers since Roger brought us this festival it is that they are a tenacious and determined bunch when it comes to their particular form of art. And really, that is what I consider Ebertfest to be. It is a world-wide celebration of the arts here at Illinois.
I’ve said before that I didn’t truly appreciate the importance of the arts until an art history teacher at Swarthmore College revealed to me the complexity, the cultural significance of art. He helped me to see that the arts are more than pretty representations – they are rich reflections of culture. We don’t often see the significance in something, until someone points it out. And I have no doubt that for an entire generation of moviegoers, that person was Roger Ebert. With his carefully crafted reviews and really, through his ability to use language to change the way we think, he opened our eyes to the real art and beauty in films.
I hope to see you next week at Ebertfest. The week will be noticeably more somber without Roger sitting in the audience with us.
But, in what better way could we pay our respects to our friend Roger Ebert than by sitting in the Virginia Theater and enjoying a great movie, together?
Around the Campus
You can read more about the Ebertfest lineup here and about some late additions to the list of guest speakers here. For more information about ticketing and seating policies, you can visit the Virginia Theater website.
Congratulations to the 2013 recipients of Campus Awards for Public Engagement. The awards recognize faculty members, academic professionals and students who have consistently applied their knowledge and expertise to issues of societal importance for the public good. Individual recipients include Brant Houston (Journalism), Madhu Viswanathan (Business), Martin Wolske (Library and Information Science), and Deidre Lanneskog (Social Work). A team award is being presented to creators of the Scientific Animations Without Borders Initiative. You can read about all of them here.
Congratulations to juniors Manan Raval and David Schmid who have been awarded Barry M. Goldwater scholarships for the 2013-14 academic year for demonstrating leadership and academic promise in science or engineering. Seth Cazzell, a sophomore in materials science and engineering, and Shyam Saladi, a junior in electrical engineering, earned honorable mentions in the national competition. Read more about their outstanding accomplishments here.