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Chaz Ebert Responds to News-Gazette Ebertfest Article

Dear Editor:

Roger would be as disappointed as I am that the News-Gazette put out such an erroneous article about his film festival. The Roger Ebert's Film Festival (Ebertfest) remains a robust cultural and educational event that brings great films, great filmmakers and great academics to the Champaign-Urbana area. The audience for the festival comes from all over the United States and Canada to spend time and money in the surrounding area, and that remains true during the 18th edition of our festival. But what is most important is the unbridled joy that the festival brings with it. We have been welcomed with open arms to the community and we try to honor that duty and responsibility by putting on a quality festival. 

There is a cultural and empathetic exchange that happens here that cannot be measured by numbers of tickets sold. And speaking of numbers of tickets sold, my heart goes out to Erica Ramis, the widow of director Harold Ramis. One of the many errors in the article is that the tribute to Ramis was the lowest moneymaker. The truth is there were no tickets sold to the Tribute. It was presented to honor his memory and was never meant to be a moneymaker. So that item was false.

When Roger and I set up the film festival we donated funds to start it and set in place a process for the University of Illinois College of Media, to help us manage it as our fiscal agent with the goal that one day it could perhaps become part of a future Ebert Center. As such, it is an independent institution and it does not depend on money from the state. It is self-sustaining. The picture of the finances presented by the News-Gazette did not give a complete picture. It left out other factors such as sponsorships and donors who contribute generously so that the festival can continue. The article failed to state that the News-Gazette itself is one of our sponsors. 

But the heart of the matter is this, Ebertfest is not a widget factory. It was established as an event of the arts and that is what it continues to be. It was never meant to turn a profit, or to have a contest from one film to the next to see which one was the most popular. Directors like to bring their films here because they get an audience of approximately 1,500 movie-lovers who watch their film with rapt attention. No one is looking at cell phones or talking or being disrespectful. Roger himself wanted it to be an intimate festival akin to a temple to honor gems, films that deserved a bigger audience or a second look. 

The films are shown in the gorgeous renovated Virginia Theater on a screen so big it reflects the heavens. They are taken care of by a projectionist named James Bond who has a worldwide reputation as being one of the best. Whether we are projecting in 70 mm or 35mm or digital projection or Todd A-O vision, Bond is our man. 

At the end of the films we get to hear what the filmmakers want us to know about the project they labored over. And they get to bask in the appreciation. They serve on academic panels at the Illini Union on the university campus where they can speak further about art and filmmaking and life itself.

The audience soaks up the films and the atmosphere and commune with their fellow filmgoers. Friendships have been forged here, marriages confirmed, and according to rumor, even babies made. Roger and I deliberately fostered a family atmosphere because we cared about the audience and the community and the university. None of that is reflected in the News-Gazette article and I hope the false impression it gave will be corrected.

Thank you,

Chaz Ebert

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