I am pleased to announce the recipients of the sixth annual Roger Ebert Fellowship at the Sundance Institute, a workshop that brings together emerging film writers, critics and filmmakers for mentorship jointly by the Sundance Film Festival and RogerEbert.com. This partnership provides an extraordinary opportunity for them to navigate the fast-paced, deadline-driven environment of one of the world's premiere film festivals. They will write reviews and features under the tutelage of editors at Rogerebert.com, while networking with industry professionals like directors, actors, film critics, festival programmers, agents, distributors and publicists. This program was established by Sundance Institute Founder, Robert Redford, in honor of my late husband, Roger Ebert, an early supporter and enthusiast of the festival and its mission.
One of my specific goals of the program is to connect the Fellows with the core values of empathy, kindness, compassion and forgiveness. I am ever mindful of Roger's mission of connecting us all to our humanity through the medium of film.
The Fellows for 2019 are Niani Scott, Whitney A. Spencer and ReBecca Theodore-Vachon. You will be able to read their essays and watch their video essays at RogerEbert.com from January 24-February 3, 2019.
NIANI SCOTT is a sophomore studying Journalism with minors in Political Science and African Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In her career as a journalist, she aims to tell stories holistically and truthfully on the lives of black people across the diaspora, as well as work to diversify newsrooms and media representation.
As a 2017-2018 U of I College of Media Roger Ebert Fellow, she was mentored by Chicago Tribune film critic, Michael Phillips, and gained firsthand experience in arts criticism. She reported on the Chicago International Film Festival as well as Ebertfest as part of the Ebert Fellowship. Niani has had experience behind the camera as a documentarian for organizations on campus and as a post production assistant through Free Spirit Media Chicago. Currently, she is a radio show host on the University of Illinois’ college radio station, PizzaFM, and a former News Reporter at the Daily Illini, the university’s independent student-run newspaper.
Now 20 years old, Niani already has had the opportunity to learn about cultures in the homelands of African people. She has traveled throughout South Africa, Ghana, and Eswatini, inspiring her to dig deeper and go further in her journalistic pursuits.
WHITNEY A. SPENCER was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, but now calls the South Side of Chicago home. She is completing a master’s degree in Critical Ethnic Studies at DePaul University, where her multimedia thesis project will focus on the culturally centered, community generated intellectual practices of Black people. After graduation, she hopes to find opportunities to continue to use storytelling to examine the broader culture – to evoke an exercise of the senses.
Whitney was a 2018 TEDxDePaulUniversity featured speaker with her talk, Reimagining the Intellectual. Most recently, she served as an intern at Kartemquin Films under the accomplished documentary filmmaker, artistic director and founding member of Kartemquin, Gordon Quinn. Whitney is a visual storyteller, focused on mastering the tools of filmmaking in order to reshape the understanding of the visual, cultural and intellectual aesthetics of self-defined Blackness. She strives to create in the tradition of the great Octavia Butler – “Tell stories filled with facts. Make people touch and taste and know. Make people Feel! Feel! Feel!”
REBECCA THEODORE-VACHON is a film and TV critic who focuses on race, gender and representation in Hollywood. She was the entertainment columnist at The Urban Daily and has contributed to NYTimes.com, RogerEbert.com, Entertainment Weekly, Fast Company and Vulture.com.
In 2017, she was a featured speaker for Google Talks at the Miami Film Festival and currently hosts Oscar Q&A panels for the Academy of Motion Pictures And Sciences. TV appearances include "Politics Nation" on MSNBC and Good Morning America.