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"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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In Praise of Film Critics: Why They Matter More Than Ever

It was rather bracing to read the subheading of an article "F--- That F---er!" in The Hollywood Reporter and realize it was ranking film critics in New York. Fortunately, that was not the tone of the whole essay. But the results from an anonymous survey of filmmakers, studio heads, marketing chiefs and other industry types were not as hopeful as I would have wished and some of their comments would get a giant thumbs down. 

More than anything, the article got me thinking about how critics, in fact, matter more than ever. A well-written, knowledgable, provocative analysis will always drown out the surrounding noise, championing a medium that deserves to be regarded as art form, rather than as a mere product for the marketplace. Roger’s love for cinema was as evident in his positive reviews as it was in his negative reviews, and the infectiousness of his passion inspired countless readers around the world to embrace cinema on a deeper, more meaningful level. It wasn’t merely an entertainment, it was a portal into the minds and hearts of others. Anyone who leaves the theater feeling less empathetic toward their fellow man was not paying attention.

In response to this, I am especially happy to promote our Critic's Forum scheduled to occur at Ebertfest from 10:15am to 11:15am in the Pine Lounge of the Illini Union, 1401 Green St., in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, on Friday, April 17th. Here is an excellent group of critics we will have assembled at the festival this year to discuss the future of film criticism, the responsibility of the critics to the audience and to the art form, how reviewing is changing in this digital age, and what that means for the audience, and other issues to explore. Most of the critics contribute to RogerEbert.com, but in a sense of community we have reached across the aisle to solicit the opinions of critics from other cities and publications, but all who genuinely love films and who take writing about them very seriously. Roger would be proud of them all.

MODERATOR

Godfrey Cheshire is an award-winning film critic, journalist, screenwriter and filmmaker based in New York City. His writings on film have appeared in publications including The New York TimesVarietyNewsweekThe Village VoiceInterviewFilm CommentSight & Sound and Cineaste. He currently writes for RogerEbert.com.

His first film as writer-director, a documentary titled "Moving Midway," was named one of the 2008 10 best films by the LA Weekly and New York Magazine. He is a member of the National Society of Film Critics and a former chairman of the New York Film Critics Circle.

PANELISTS

Scott Foundas is the Chief Film Critic for Variety. Prior to joining Variety, he was Chief Film Critic for the LA Weekly and The Village Voice, in addition to which his writing on film has appeared in the DGA QuarterlyFilm Comment, Slate and The New York Times. In 2010, he was named Critic of the Year at the LA Press Club's National Entertainment Journalism Awards. In 2013, a Spanish-language collection of his writing entitled Time Stopped was published by the Mar Del Plata Film Festival in Argentina. As a programmer, Foundas spent 6 years as a member of the New York Film Festival selection committee and three years as Associate Program Director for the Film Society of Lincoln Center. In addition, he has been a programming consultant to the Cannes and Telluride film festivals and the film department of the Walker Art Center.

Sam Fragoso, a native of Chicago, currently lives and works in San Francisco as a journalist and student at SF State University. He's the founder of Movie Mezzanine, a regular contributor at Forbes, and a member of the SFFCC. His work has appeared in The AtlanticPlayboyThe Daily BeastVultureThe DissolveInterview MagazineVICE and, of course, RogerEbert.com.

Fragoso will be the official blogger for the RogerEbert.com site at this year's Ebertfest, providing coverage of the festival's various screenings and events on our site.

Check back throughout the festival to read his coverage.

Glenn Kenny is the editor of A Galaxy Not So Far Away: Writers and Artists On 25 Years of ‘Star Wars’ (Holt, 2002) and the author of Robert De Niro: Anatomy of An Actor (Phaidon/Cahiers du Cinema, 2014). His writings on the arts have appeared in a wide variety of publications, which include the New York Times, the Los Angeles TimesRolling Stone, the Village VoiceEntertainment WeeklyHumanities, and others. From the mid-1990s to the magazine’s 2007 folding, he was a senior editor and the chief film critic for Premiere. There he commissioned and edited pieces by David Foster Wallace, Tony Kushner, Martin Amis, William Prochnau, and other well-regarded writers. He also wrote early features on such soon-to-be-prominent motion picture figures as Paul Thomas Anderson and Billy Bob Thornton. He currently contributes film reviews and essays to RogerEbert.com and to Vanity Fair Online, Decider, the Criterion Collection website, and other outlets. He has made numerous television and radio appearances and appears as an actor in Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 film The Girlfriend Experience, and Preston Miller’s 2010 God’s Land. He was born in Fort Lee, New Jersey and has been a resident of Brooklyn since 1990; he lives in that borough with his wife.

Nell Minow began reviewing movies for her high school and college newspapers and has been writing reviews online as the Movie Mom since 1995. Her website Movie Mom includes reviews of theatrical and DVD/Blu-Ray releases as well as features, interviews, and contests, and she appears each week on radio stations across the country and Huffington Post to talk about new releases. 

Her writing about movies and popular culture has appeared in many outlets, including RogerEbert.comUSA Today, the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Kansas City Star, and the Motion Picture Association's thecredits.org. Her books include The Movie Mom's Guide to Family Movies101 Must-See Movie Moments, and the 50 Must-See Movies series.

Michael Phillips is the Chicago Tribune film critic. He cohosted 100 or so episodes of the long-running nationally syndicated "At the Movies," first opposite Richard Roeper, then A.O. Scott. 

He reviewed "Taxi Driver" for his high school paper, The Shield. He went on to write about movies for the Twin Cities weekly City Pages. He served as theater critic of the Los Angeles Times, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Dallas Times-Herald and the St. Paul Pioneer Press

He came to the Tribune as its drama critic in 2002 before being named film critic in 2006. He has hosted programming for Turner Classic Movies. He lives in Logan Square with his wife, Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens, and their three children. He’s also happy and honored to be back at Ebertfest.

Richard Roeper is a columnist and film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. His reviews are syndicated to more than 100 newspapers in the United States. He has hosted radio shows on WLUP-FM, WLS-FM and WLS-AM. He is the author of 8 books, with two more scheduled for publication in the next year.

Richard has been an on-air contributor to CBS-2, Fox and WLS-TV in Chicago. He is currently a regular on "Windy City Live" on ABC-7. He also reviews films for the Reelz Channel.

For nine years, Richard was the co-host of "Ebert & Roeper." He has appeared as a guest on "Oprah," "Nightline," "The Tonight Show," "The Today Show," "Good Morning America," "Top Chef," "The Conan O'Brien Show," "Entourage" and many other national programs.

All of Richard's reviews can be found at richardroeper.com and on the Richard Roeper app.

Brian Tallerico has covered TV, film, video games, Blu-ray/DVD, interviews and entertainment news for over a decade online, on radio and in print. Tallerico is the managing editor of RogerEbert.com

In addition, he is the editor of Magill's Cinema Annual, a regular guest on Chicago radio, writes the PlayStation Guide for About.com and freelances for Videohound. 

He also serves as vice president of the Chicago Film Critics Association and co-produces the Chicago Critics Film Festival. 

None of it is possible and none of it is worthwhile without the support of his wife Lauren and 3 boys: Lucas, Miles, and Noah.

Rebecca Theodore-Vachon is a contributor to RogerEbert.com

Her work has also been published at TheUrbanDaily.com, Forbes.com, and NYTimes.com. 

She also runs her own blog FilmFataleNYC.blogspot.com and co-hosts "Cinema in Noir" podcast on Sundays on BlogTalkRadio.

Susan Wloszczyna spent much of her nearly 30 years at USA TODAY as a senior entertainment reporter doing her dream job: Visiting the New Zealand film set of "The Lord of the Rings," being a zombie extra in George Romero’s "Land of the Dead" and interviewing countless show biz figures including icons (Vincent Price, Shirley Temple, Peter O’Toole, Mr. Rogers), A-list stars (George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Will Smith, Sandra Bullock, Denzel Washington) and big-name filmmakers (Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, Jane Campion, Nancy Meyers, Spike Lee, Wes Anderson and Alexander Payne).

Her positions at the newspaper included being a film reviewer for twelve years as well as the Life section copy desk chief. Now unchained from the grind of daily journalism, she is ready to view the world of movies with fresh eyes.

Matt Zoller Seitz is the Editor-in-Chief of RogerEbert.com. He is also the TV critic for New York Magazine & Vulture.com and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism. 

A Brooklyn-based writer and filmmaker, Seitz has written, narrated, edited or produced over 100 hours’ worth of video essays about cinema history and style for The Museum of the Moving Image and The L Magazine, among other outlets. His 5-part 2009 video essay Wes Anderson: The Substance of Stylewas later spun off into the hardcover book The Wes Anderson Collection. Seitz is the founder and original editor of The House Next Door, now a part of Slant Magazine, and the publisher of Press Play, a blog of film and TV criticism and video essays. He is the director of the 2005 romantic comedy "Home" and the forthcoming sci-fi epic "Rabbit of the Sith." He is currently writing a memoir titled All the Things that Remind Me of Her.

Other critics who will be in attendance, though not at the festival for the Critic's Forum are:

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, as well as his 30-year run on TV’s "Entertainment Tonight." He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on the Reelz Channel. 

His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never SeenOf Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia.

He served two terms as President of the LA Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. 

He hosted and co-produced the popular "Walt Disney Treasures" DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has received numerous awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of "South Park." (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of "The Sopranos"?)

Sheila O'Malley received a BFA in Theatre from the University of Rhode Island and a Master's in Acting from the Actors Studio MFA Program. She is a regular film critic for RogerEbert.com, and has also contributed reviews and essays to The DissolveFandorBright Wall/Dark RoomCapital New YorkMovie MezzanineThe Sewanee Review and Press Play

Her video essay on the work of Gena Rowlands was included in the Criterion Collection's release of John Cassavetes' "Love Streams." Her script July and Half of August was recently shot as a short film, starring Annika Marks and Robert Baker. O'Malley writes about actors, movies, books, and Elvis Presley at her personal site, The Sheila Variations

Matt Fagerholm has been covering the film beat in Chicago for the last nine years, writing film reviews and conducting interviews for a variety of outlets including HollywoodChicago.com, Time Out Chicago and The A.V. Club

He is a contributor at RogerEbert.com, an employee of The Ebert Company and publisher of the independent film blog, Indie-Outlook.com.

He has also taught a film class at Facets Cinémathèque.

Omer Mozaffar is the Muslim Chaplain at Loyola University. 

A scholar of religion, he received an "Excellence in Teaching Award in the Humanities, Arts, and Sciences" in 2011 from the University of Chicago's Graham School. 

He also teaches at DePaul and other Chicago area institutions, academic and confessional. 

In 2009, Roger named him as one of his Far Flung Correspondents. 

Omer misses Roger tremendously.

Peter Sobczynski saw his very first film, "Dumbo," when he was 3 and has not stopped talking about them since then. Currently, he is a proud contributor to RogerEbert.com and also reviews films for eFilmcritic.com and for Magills Cinema Annual. He is also a programming advisor for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, an annual festival of upcoming film put together entirely by Chicago-based film critics. 

He is excited to be attending Ebertfest again this year and, while he cannot promise that he will participate in any karaoke competitions with his colleagues, he says that, if he does, Taylor Swift will be his jam. He currently resides in the suburbs of Chicago, is eagerly awaiting "Fury Road" and would like to have a few words with Tim Burton about this "Dumbo" remake he is supposedly doing.

Simon Abrams is a native New Yorker and freelance film critic whose work has been featured in Esquire, the Village Voice and elsewhere. 

Simon started his career as an arts critic writing comics reviews for the Comics Journal. He conducted the cover interview with writer Robert Kirkman in issue #289. 

After writing film reviews for the New York Press and Slant Magazine, Simon wrote film reviews for the Village Voice, an outlet that he now regularly contributes feature interviews and capsule reviews to. Simon has also spoken at a number of panel discussions in New York. His latest film reviews can be found at RogerEbert.com.

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