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Ebert Symposium 2019 Preview: Diversity in Journalism, National Hispanic Heritage Month Panels

If some panels are sold out, please check back with us tomorrow.

On Friday, September 27th, you are invited to attend the second Chaz & Roger Ebert Symposium at the Illinois Ballroom of the I-Hotel and Conference Center, 1900 S. First St., in Champaign, Illinois. It is a collaboration between Chaz Ebert, the College of Media and Ebertfest. The symposium, titled "Creating an Inclusive Media and Cinema Ecosystem," opens at 9 a.m. and has various panels scheduled throughout the day. This year’s topic grew out of Roger’s vision of movies as a tool for generating empathy among those of different genders, races, ages, classes or other circumstances. Fostering empathy “is the most noble thing that good movies can do,” he said.  

Though the symposium is free and open to the public, online registration is highly encouraged to reserve a spot for selected panel discussions. Here is a preview of two major events scheduled throughout the day... 


Brian Johnson, Diversity in Journalism moderator

Brian Johnson started his journalism career as a staff photojournalist at The News-Gazette in Champaign and has been teaching at the University since 1988. Johnson's work has been published in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, USA Today, Newsday and others. 

Johnson was the editor of the book, C-U in Seven Plus, A Week (Plus a little bit more) in the Life of Champaign-Urbana. He has won prizes in the Horizon Interactive awards, National Press Photographers Association Pictures of the Year and the Telly Awards. His multimedia project "This Bond" won Best Faculty Creative Project from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Visual Communication Division. His current work uses photojournalism as a methodology to document the unseen in the seen. 

Johnson has received more than 60 national, regional and state awards for his photojournalism, multimedia and videos. Johnson has received recognition for his teaching including being selected as a Vice Chancellor's Teaching Scholar and as Faculty Member of the Year from the University of Illinois Dads Association. He was twice the head of the Visual Communications Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication and was vice president of the Illinois Press Photographers Association. He has served the department of journalism at the University as director of graduate studies, associate department head and as department head.

Abrar Al-Heeti, Diversity in Journalism panelist

Abrar Al-Heeti is a staff reporter for CNET's culture team. Born and raised in Champaign, she graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a bachelor's and master's degree in journalism. While in school, she worked for The Daily Illini and the Center for Power Optimization of Electro-Thermal Systems, and was an intern at Illinois Public Media and The News-Gazette. 

In her current role at CNET, Abrar covers everything from breaking news to Silicon Valley culture to social media trends. She works in San Francisco.

Dr. Janice Marie Collins, Diversity in Journalism panelist

Dr. Janice Marie Collins is an assistant professor in the Journalism Department. She is an award-winning journalist, documentarian, digital publisher, researcher and scholar with more than 20 years of experience in the journalism industry and 16 years of teaching experience on the university level. Before coming to Illinois, she earned multiple Emmy, Best of Gannett, Associated Press, NABJ, and AABJ awards for writing, producing, reporting, cinematography, and editing while working in the top-ten market and network. She has also won numerous awards for her work in student broadcasting at Hampton University and Eastern Illinois University. 

Her research, teaching, creative endeavors and public engagements intersect at the demarginalization of individuals, learning spaces, media content and organizational structures. Her television broadcast program and web-series, “A Taste of Gullah,” won Best Documentary at the International Garifuna Film Festival in Venice, California and her most recent autoethnography series “Journey to My Mother’s Land: Extending the Gate’s Effect into Africa,” was picked up by the largest broadcast platform in Africa, the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), and aired digitally to the U.K., U.S., Canada and all of Africa. Prominent anti-racism activist and educator, Jane Elliott, described her first book publication, 250 Years and Still a Slave: Breaking Free with Active Centralized Empowerment, as “a Great read!” and “should be required reading for every teacher in the classroom.” Her second book, Active Centralized Empowerment (A.C.E.): Teaching without Borders, now under contract, introduces a critical pedagogy for inclusion and empowerment that she has been developing for over 14 years. She is also completing a multimedia/online article on her recent trip back to Sierra Leone, West Africa, Accra, Ghana and Abuja, Nigeria, where she spoke with children survivors of the Boko Haram attack who now live in an IDP camp. 

Janice was awarded the Baskett Mosse National Faculty Development Award, and won second place
in national competition for “Best in Digital” for her website of (AEJMC
2017), first place in the Top Faculty Paper Competition at the National BEA Conference as, both, coauthor, and sole author of quantitative studies for two consecutive years, is a Kopenhaver Fellow and President of the African International Documentary Festival Foundation based out of Abuja, Nigeria and Champaign, Illinois. As an invited professional facilitator at the UnLeash2019 Global Innovation Lab in Shenzhen, China, she will guide a team of storytellers to produce stories to help meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Janice teaches broadcast and multimedia courses as well as a specialized cross-disciplines course on leadership, inclusion and demarginalization for digital publication and was inducted into the ACC Women’s Basketball Legends Hall of Fame for Wake Forest University.

Ben Holden, Diversity in Journalism panelist

Ben Holden teaches media law and news reporting in the Department of Journalism at the University of Illinois/Urbana-Champaign College of Media and is a visiting faculty member at the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada. He was formerly an associate professor and director of the Reynolds National Center for Courts & Media at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR). The Center is an affiliate of the National Judicial College on the UNR campus. Mr. Holden's media consulting work includes assignments in the former Yugoslavia (Kosovo) on behalf of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the U.S. State Department to aid judges, journalists, and public information officers in developing professional press coverage of the courts. Previously, he practiced law at the Bay Area media law firm Cooper, White & Cooper and was Editor-in-Chief of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer in Columbus, Ga., a McClatchy newspaper. He spent his daily news reporting career at The Wall Street Journal, where he was eventually the Journals national utilities correspondent.


Gregory Nava, National Hispanic Heritage Month special guest

Writer/producer/director Gregory Nava has been nominated for an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, an Emmy, and a Writer’s Guild Award. His films have been selected for and honored at many film festivals, including, Cannes, Sundance, Berlin, Telluride, San Sebastian, Edinburgh, Chicago, and Montreal. Nava became an internationally renowned filmmaker with his Academy Award nominated film "El Norte" for which he received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay as well as a Writer’s Guild of America Award nomination. 

Critic Roger Ebert called "El Norte," which addresses the plight of illegal immigrants, “'The Grapes of Wrath' of our time.” "El Norte" was named an “American Classic” and designated for special preservation by The Library of Congress. Nava continued directing a string of ground-breaking Latino films, directing and co-writing the multi-generational saga "My Family/Mi Familia," which starred Jennifer Lopez in her first film role. Nava went on to write and direct the box-office hit "Selena" based on the true-life story of the singing superstar and created the definitive breakout role for Jennifer Lopez, earning her a Golden Globe nomination. Nava then followed with directing the musical biopic "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" starring Halle Berry.

Nava co-wrote the screenplay for the Academy Award nominated film "Frida," starring Selma Hayek. Nava then wrote, directed and produced the political thriller "Bordertown" starring Jennifer Lopez and Antonio Banderas. "Bordertown" was nominated for the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival and won the “Artist for Amnesty” award from Amnesty International. In television Nava has been nominated for both the Emmy and Golden Globe as the Creator and Executive Producer of "American Family," the first dramatic Latino series in the history of broadcast television. Nava received his Emmy and Golden Globe nominations in the "Outstanding Mini-series" category.

Currently Nava is slated to direct "Gates of Eden" a sweeping epic of the current situation on the border. Nava also has in development "The Magnificent Mendez" – the inspirational story of Rafael Mendez who rose from poverty in Mexico to become the world’s greatest trumpet player. In addition to his Oscar, Emmy and Golden Globe nominations Nava has received five Imagen awards – three Alma awards – the Hispanic Heritage Award for the Arts at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC – The National Hispanic Heritage Foundation Raul Julia Award for Excellence – the Latino Spirit Award from the State of California and Lifetime Achievement Awards from both the National Council of La Raza and the Imagen Foundation.

Nate Kohn, panel moderator

Dr. Nate Kohn is professor at the University of Georgia, Associate Director of the George Foster Peabody Awards, festival director of Roger Ebert's Film Festival, director of the University of Georgia MFA program in screenwriting and award-winning producer. Dr. Kohn produced Zulu Dawn starring Burt Lancaster and Peter O’Toole; the independent feature "Somebodies," which premiered at Sundance (2006); "Rain," the Bahamas’ first indigenous feature which premiered at Toronto (2007) and on Showtime (2010); the feature film "Bottleworld" (2010); he was Executive Producer on the BET television series "Somebodies" (2008); he was Producer on the feature length documentary "Bayou Maharajah" that premiered at the SXSW Festival (2013); he produced the Emmy Award-winning short documentary "Ebertfest 2012"; and he was Executive Producer on The 73rd, 74th and 75th Annual Peabody Awards Specials for PivotTV/Participant Media (2014, 2015 and 2016). He has served on juries and mentored screenwriters at the Atlanta, Hawaii, Kerala, and Bahamas International Film Festivals. He is the author of numerous scholarly articles and of the book Pursuing Hollywood: Seduction, Obsession, Dread (AltaMira Press, 2006).

Chaz Ebert, panel moderator

Chaz Ebert is the CEO of Ebert Digital LLC, which publishes the movie review site, She also produces television and movies at Ebert Productions, and heads the Ebertfest Film Festival now in its 20th year, where she gives the Ebert Humanitarian Award to filmmakers who exhibit an unusually compassionate view of the world. Her civic interests include programs to help break the glass ceiling for women and people of color, and to provide education and arts for women, children and families. Through the Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation she provides grants to support projects with strong social justice themes and mentors emerging writers, filmmakers, and technologists with a global view toward encouraging empathy, kindness, compassion and forgiveness. As an attorney she was named Lawyer of the Year by the Constitutional Rights Foundation, is a life-trustee of the Art Institute, and serves on the boards of the Abraham Lincoln Library Foundation, the Lyric Opera, the Shirley Ryan Ability Center and After School Matters. She is also a member of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, the Chicago Film Critics Association and the African-American Film Critics Association.

To register for the 2019 Chaz & Roger Ebert Symposium, click here.

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