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Cannes: Roger Ebert honored with American Pavilion panel and "500 thumbs up" on the beach

CANNES, FRANCE — Roger Ebert was honored with a panel at the American Pavilion in Cannes this afternoon, held at a terrace officially known as the Roger Ebert Conference Center. The panelists included Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune, Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times, and Eric Kohn of Indiewire.  

The moderator, Columbia University's Annette Insdorf, who used to host the festival's awards ceremony on American TV with Ebert, began by invoking the late critic's generosity. "He was what my father would have called a mensch," she said. Much of the discussion included tales of encounters with Ebert at Cannes and other festivals.

"So many of my memories of Roger are from here," Ebert's longtime friend Turan said. "I can feel his presence very strongly."

Phillips recalled BlackBerry struggles during his first trip to Cannes, in 2006, when Ebert showed him the ropes and introduced him to the right contacts. "Suddenly the whole trip went very smoothly, just because Roger took the time," he said. And this, he added, was to help "an alleged competitor of the Sun-Times."

Topics included Ebert's place in American film criticism, his conversational prose style, his influence on championing smaller movies, and the way he introduced readers and viewers to new types of films. Kohn remembered Ebert's advice on how to deal with nasty commenters ("Fuck it. Keep on keepin' on"), and Insdorf quoted from a celebrated passage from Ebert's memoir, "Life Itself," about the importance of being kind to others. Chicago-raised filmmaker Tanya Wexler ("Hysteria") echoed that sentiment during the Q&A at the end, commenting about Ebert's optimism as a critic. "Like it, love it, or hate it," she said, "you knew he loved movies, and he would find what he could to love in them."

Before questions were taken, Insdorf acknowledged the presence of Chaz Ebert, who spoke briefly. "Roger said that the cinema expands your imagination," she said. "And when it's done well, what it will do is allow the individual to be transported beyond linear boundaries and to take you to a world that you hadn't seen before and allow you inside and outside to become a better person."

Those in attendance were then to walk on over to the beach, where Ebert was given a "500 thumbs up" salute.

Ben Kenigsberg

Ben Kenigsberg is a frequent contributor to The New York Times. He edited the film section of Time Out Chicago from 2011 to 2013 and served as a staff critic for the magazine beginning in 2006. 

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