The Alliance of Women Film Journalists, Inc. (AWFJ), is a not-for-profit charitable organization founded in New York in October 2006 by Jennifer Merin, Maitland McDonagh, Joanna Langfield and Jenny Halper. Its purpose is to amplify the voices of women critics, provide a platform for the expression of women’s perspectives on film and support work by and about women – both in front of and behind the cameras – through intra-group promotional activities, outreach programs and by presenting the annual EDA Awards in recognition of outstanding accomplishments (the best and worst) by and about women in the movies.
WHY WE CHOSE HER by Jennifer Merin and Nell Minow
Chaz Ebert deserves Spotlight status for many reasons, starting with her commitment to women’s voices as critics and feature/interview writers on Rogerebert.com and as filmmakers and presenters at Ebertfest. Most of all, we salute her own voice, her commentary and the example she sets of vision, leadership, and support. As a cherished member of AWFJ and the publisher of several other AWFJ members, we are endlessly grateful, and we look forward to great things as she takes on new challenges.
The article, which was written by RogerEbert.com Assistant Editor Nell Minow and published on March 31st, can be read in full on the official AWFJ site. It is being excerpted here by Matt Fagerholm. It details Chaz's history as a successful lawyer and how it led her to meet Barack Obama back when he was a law student. When she and Roger were engaged, he asked her to run his businesses, including broadcasting in radio and television and book publishing. Together they co-founded the Roger Ebert Overlooked Film Festival in Urbana/Champaign, Illinois, now known as Ebertfest and the website Rogerebert.com. Here is a quote included in the article by festival coordinator Andrew Michael Hall.
“With humility, Chaz Ebert would say her goal for the festival is to uphold Roger’s standards. But, in truth, Chaz has become as integral to Ebertfest as Roger was himself. While she may be the public face of the event, Chaz is anything but a figurehead. She is very much hands-on when it comes to decision making. It is Chaz’s understanding of the festival’s mission that moves the event forward and Chaz’s commitment to empathy and diversity that keep the festival’s values anchored. But what also makes her so successful in her stewardship of Ebertfest is her acknowledgement and inclusion of the many groups of people invested in the festival’s legacy. Chaz talks about the people involved as the Ebertfest family, and her decisions are always grounded in an understanding of all the participants – the critics, filmmakers and the audience – as a single community.”
After Roger was diagnosed with cancer, Chaz never left his side, making it possible for Roger to continue writing movie reviews until shortly before his death in 2013. The following quote regarding some of Chaz's most significant contributions was provided by one of RogerEbert.com's longtime film critics, Sheila O'Malley.
“Chaz Ebert has done the world of film criticism – and culture, in general – a great service in keeping Rogerebert.com alive, continuing the legacy of her late husband. Her energy is boundless! One of her greatest contributions was initiating an annual “Women Writers Week” on the site, where every piece on the main page of Rogerebert.com is written by a woman, a necessary corrective to a male-dominated field. When her husband died, it was a huge loss, but Chaz knew he would want the work to continue. She has made certain that it will. She loves movies so much, and her enthusiasm is catching. She supports people. I will also be eternally grateful to her for accepting the short film I wrote to be screened at Ebertfest in 2017. She really cares about the great things people are up to. If you’re doing cool things, she wants to know about it, and makes sure to signal-boost you so everyone knows about it. If you’ve been in her presence, you know how much she loves what she does. She’s an awe-inspiring leader. I admire her so much.”
Toward the article's closing, Nell Minow pinpoints the theme that connects all of Chaz's work.
But what means the most to Chaz is the theme that connects everything she does. Roger famously described movies as an empathy machine. “If it’s a great movie, it lets you understand a little bit more about what it’s like to be a different gender, a different race, a different age, a different economic class, a different nationality, a different profession, different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us. And that, to me, is the most noble thing that good movies can do and it’s a reason to encourage them and to support them and to go to them.” Chaz has made empathy central to all of her projects. Just one example is the coordination of Ebertfest each year with the Alliance for Inclusion and Respect (AIR), a group that works to counter the stigma of disabilities and mental illness. The festival always includes a panel discussion and film related to empathy and inclusion and outside the theater where the movies are shown, AIR members sell their crafts to filmgoers.
To read the full Spotlight article on Chaz Ebert on the AWFJ site, featuring additional quotes from Matt Zoller Seitz, Brian Tallerico and Matt Fagerholm, click here.