TORONTO, September 4, 2013 — This year's Toronto International Film Festival® will open Thursday night with a film tribute to Roger Ebert, the Pulitzer Prize–winning movie critic whose attendance helped the festival grow from a bootstrap operation into the unofficial opener to Academy Awards season.
From its inception in 1976, Ebert, who died in April, recognized the Festival's potential as a multifaceted launch pad for both Hollywood blockbusters and art house gems from around the world. Later calling the Festival "the most important in North America," Ebert applauded its magnetism for everyone from mass audiences to film cognoscenti and the international industry and press. These were diverse groups he also sought to reach with his writing and on-air commentary, with similarly enduring success.
"Roger was a huge presence at the festival for over 30 years," said TIFF director and CEO Piers Handling. "He was one of the key people who put the Toronto International Film Festival on the map, and we feel it is only fitting that we pay tribute to Roger in the way we would hope he would have wanted – in a cinema surrounded by friends, family and the Toronto audience, which was so close to Roger's heart."
The tribute at 8 p.m. will precede the screening of "The Fifth Estate" in Roy Thomson Hall, which seats approximately 2,000. The video will feature homages to Ebert from festival co-founder Bill Marshall, former festival director Helga Stephenson, producer Robert Lantos and others. The Festival's affable co-founder, Dusty Cohl, passed away in January 2008.
"Roger loved the Toronto audiences because they were so passionate about movies," said Ebert's wife, Chaz, the publisher of Rogerebert.com, the website she co-founded with her husband. "He would stand in line and hold discussions with the movie goers about which films to see. He was impressed that attending the Festival was how some of them chose to spend their vacation time. He said the audience was a huge factor in making the Festival one of his favorites, so this honor means a great deal."
The Toronto International Film Festival will present Mrs. Ebert with a commemorative plaque, a replica of one that has been installed on a chair named in her husband's honor inside TIFF Bell Lightbox's Cinema One, TIFF's year-round home and marquee cinema.
"I remember the controversy over Roger's initial pronouncement that Toronto was one of the most important film festivals in the world. Now no one would give that statement a second thought; it's a fact taken for granted.
From past Toronto Festivals, Ebert predicted Oscar nominees and winners such as "Argo," "Slumdog Millionaire," "Crash" and "Juno." Ebert himself made international headlines at the Festival one year when he revolted over major film critics being shut out of a movie they needed to review. His stir led to revisions in how critics were admitted into the screenings, allowing them to meet tight deadlines and share festival buzz with the world before Twitter.
"Roger was, is and will always be one of the defining forces that made TIFF a global sensation," said Toronto documentary filmmaker Barry Avrich, who directed the film tribute to Ebert. "He was a friend, teacher and incomparable film lover on a cinematic scale."
For a list of events and films at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, please see TIFF.net.