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Virtual Ebert Symposium 2020 Will Kick off October 8th, Explore the Evolving Media Landscape

For the third year in a row, the Ebert Symposium at the University of Illinois, College of Media, will focus on vital topical themes about important issues in the media industry and the wider world. The series of virtual events, which is free and open to the public, will be broadcast on both the Ebertfest YouTube channel and Facebook page at 5 p.m. CST on their respective dates. The first Symposium was entitled "Empathy for the Universe," and focused on cosmic and global issues like climate change and the interconnectedness of the human race when viewed from space. The second Symposium was entitled, "Creating an Inclusive Media and Cinema Ecosystem."

This year, the 2020 Ebert Symposium will be a series that will examine the future of media, including cinema and television platforms in a time of change. From the global pandemic wrought by COVID-19 to the protests following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the concomitant efforts to dismantle systemic racism in the United States, the Symposium series will bring together esteemed filmmakers, executives, attorneys, academics, guild leaders, media luminaries and others to make sense of our changing world. What are our stories and who decides who gets to tell them? Will the evolution divide us or make us more cohesive? And how do we encourage the best solutions? This series is not to be missed. 

One of the changes is that for health and safety reasons, the Symposium will take place remotely and occur as a series of online events. The first in the series will be hosted by me and Dr. Nate Kohn, the director of the Ebertfest Film Festival, and a professor at the University of Georgia in Athens. This panel will be broadcast on Thursday, October 8th. Coincidentally it will feature filmmakers and studios that have documentary and/or narrative features that will be in the race for awards, including Oscars. Even the film awards rules have changed because of the current world events.

In a separate article, we will set out the details of the other two events in the series moderated by the  College of Media faculty (Documentary Film and Social Change on Thursday, October 22nd; and Representation in Media on Thursday, November 5th). To submit discussion questions to the panelists, please fill out this form in advance of each event.


Steaming live at 5pm CT on Thursday, October 8th

The panel will examine filmmaking in the light of recent production challenges, the closure of cinemas, and the still pressing need for a more equitable and representative film industry. Moderated by Chaz Ebert and Nate Kohn, the panel invites film executives and filmmakers to discuss the impact of recent events on how movies get made, who gets to make them, and how movies get to be seen and exhibited. Guests will include: Michael Barker, Co-Founder and Co-President of Sony Pictures Classics; Neil Block, Head of Distribution and Marketing for Magnolia Pictures; Melissa Haizlip, director and producer; Mary Mazzio, film director; Nina Shaw, the founding partner in the entertainment law firm, Del Shaw Moonves Tanaka Finkelstein & Lezcano; Christine Swanson, writer and director, Malcom L Lee, director and producer, and Darrien Gipson, president of SAGIndie.  Below are the panelists' bios in alphabetical order, followed by the moderators.


Michael Barker, panelist

Michael Barker, Co-President and Co-Founder of Sony Pictures Classics, has (with Tom Bernard) distributed, and often produced, some of the finest independent movies over the past 30 years. Previously he was an executive at United Artists (1980-1983) and went on to co-found Orion Classics (1983-1991) and Sony Pictures Classics. Barker’s films have received 159 Academy Award nominations and 36 wins, including five for Best Documentary Feature and 12 for Best Foreign Language Film and 23 Golden Globe Awards. 

Barker has collaborated with some of the world’s finest filmmakers including Pedro Almodovar, Mike Leigh, Louis Malle and Zhang Yimou, all of whom he’s worked with on multiple occasions. In additional to his award-winning feature releases, he and his colleagues have also restored and theatrically reissued some of the great films of the past. In recognition of his work, Barker has received many honors and awards. Most recently, he and Bernard were awarded the esteemed French Legion of Honor in acknowledgment for their contributions to French culture over the past 30 years.

Neal Block, panelist

Neal Block is Head of Distribution and Marketing for Magnolia Pictures. Over his 15-year tenure at the company, Block has overseen the releases of "RBG", "I Am Not Your Negro", "John Lewis: Good Trouble", and many others. 

Prior to Magnolia, Block worked for Samuel Goldwyn Films and Palm Pictures.

Darrien Michele Gipson, panelist

Darrien Michele Gipson is the Executive Director of SAGindie. Darrien leads a team that is responsible for independent filmmaker outreach and specializes in teaching low budget production focusing on the process for hiring professional actors via SAG-AFTRA’s low budget contracts.  

She is a frequent moderator and speaker on panels and production workshops, negotiates sponsorship agreements with film festivals around the country, spearheads the annual national advertising campaigns, oversees, and throws several epic filmmaker parties.

Melissa Haizlip, panelist

Melissa Haizlip's work responds to pressing social issues at the intersection of racial justice, social  justice, activism, and representation. Female transformation and empowerment  are at the core of all of her ideas, with the goal being to advocate and amplify the  voices of women and people of color. Melissa’s feature documentary, "Mr. SOUL!", has been awarded a finalist for the 2019 inaugural Library of Congress Lavine / Ken Burns Prize for Film. The film won Best Music Documentary at the 2018 International Documentary Association Awards. "Mr. SOUL!" premiered at Tribeca and screened at 50 festivals, receiving 16 Jury and Audience Awards for Best Documentary, and the 2019 FOCAL Award for Best  Use of Archival Footage in an Entertainment Production. 

Melissa directed and  produced "Contact High: A Visual History of Hip Hop" and produced "You’re Dead To Me" (2013) directed by Wu Tsang, winner of Best Short at the 2014 Imagen Awards, and screened at over 50 festivals and museums. Melissa has been awarded grants from the Ford Foundation JustFilms, National Endowment for the Humanities, International Documentary Association, National Endowment for the  Arts, Black Public Media, Firelight Media, ITVS, Awesome Without Borders, and Puffin Foundation. Melissa is currently producing a docuseries on women in hip-hop. 

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Malcolm D. Lee, panelist

Malcolm D. Lee is an American director, producer and screenwriter. He is known for directing numerous comedies, including "The Best Man", "Undercover Brother", "Roll Bounce", "Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins", "Soul Men", "Scary Movie 5", "The Best Man Holiday", "Girls Trip", and "Night School." 

He earned Best Director and Screenplay prizes at the Black Reel Awards for his debut feature, "The Best Man," which starred Taye Diggs, Nia Long, Morris Chestnut and Terrence Howard

Lee is currently in post-production on "Space Jam: A New Legacy," starring LeBron James.

Mary Mazzio, panelist

Mary Mazzio, an award-winning documentary film director, Olympic athlete, and former law firm partner, is Founder and CEO of 50 Eggs, Inc., an independent film production company dedicated to making socially impactful films. Mary wrote, directed, and produced the highly-acclaimed films "Underwater Dreams", "TEN9EIGHT", "The Apple Pushers", "A Hero for Daisy", "Contrarian", "Apple Pie", and "Lemonade Stories."

Her newest documentary films include, "I AM JANE DOE" (2017), narrated by Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastain, and "A Most Beautiful Thing" (2020). Mary Mazzio’s films have had large cultural impacts and the movie, "I AM JANE DOE" catalyzed (on a bipartisan basis) legislation signed by the President in 2018.

Nina Shaw, panelist

Nina Shaw is a founding partner in the entertainment law firm of Del Shaw Moonves Tanaka Finkelstein & Lezcano. Her practice is in the television, motion picture, and live stage area. Among her clients are successful and award winning actors, writers, producers and directors as well as entrepreneurs and entertainment executives. Nina is a Variety Dealmaker Impact honoree and has been named repeatedly to The Hollywood Reporter’s “Women in Entertainment Power 100” list. 

She is a recipient of the WIF Crystal Award, and in 2013 was named Entertainment Lawyer of the Year by the Beverly Hills Bar Association. Most recently, she was honored by Essence Magazine with its 2016 Black Women in Hollywood Power Award, and also in 2016 Nina was profiled in The New York Times: “She’s the Hollywood Power Behind Those Seeking a Voice.” In 2019 Nina received Columbia Law School’s prestigious Medal for Excellence Award, the Athena Film Festival Athena Award and the NAACP LDF National Equal Justice Award. Nina is among the founding organizers of Time’s Up.

Christine Swanson, panelist

Christine Swanson has written and/or directed numerous award- winning feature films, television episodes, commercials and short films in her career. A Detroit native, visionary storyteller and multiple award-winning filmmaker, CNN identified Christine as one of the most promising filmmakers to emerge from NYU’s graduate film program since Martin Scorsese, Ang Lee, Oliver Stone, and Spike Lee (Christine’s NYU directing teacher). 

In 2015, Christine received an NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding Directing in a Television Motion Picture for "For the Love of Ruth". Christine also directed three original cable movie premieres for TV One entitled, "To Hell and Back" (starring Ernie Hudson and Vanessa Bell Calloway), "For the Love of Ruth" (starring Denise Boutte, Loretta Devine, Gary Dourdan, and James Pickens, Jr.) and "Love Under New Management: The Miki Howard Story" (starring Teyonah Parris, Darius McCrary, and Gary Dourdan) which broke network ratings as the most watched original movie in network history. Recently, Christine directed episodes of "Chicago PD" and "FBI" for Dick Wolf Films. Her episode of "Chicago PD" was rated the Best Episode of Season 6. Christine also recently directed the award-winning, ratings and records breaking "Clark Sisters: The First Ladies of Gospel" for A&E Networks.


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 22nd 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. 

Dr. Nate Kohn, panel moderator

Dr. Nate Kohn is professor at the University of Georgia, 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" (2006); "Rain", the Bahamas’ first indigenous feature (2007); "Bottleworld" (2010); he was Executive Producer on the BET television series "Somebodies" (2008); he was Producer on the feature length documentary "Bayou Maharajah" (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).

The Ebert Symposium's virtual events will be broadcast on both the Ebertfest YouTube channel and Facebook page at 5 p.m. CST on their respective dates.

Chaz Ebert

Chaz is the CEO of several Ebert enterprises, including the President of The Ebert Company Ltd, and of Ebert Digital LLC, Publisher of, President of Ebert Productions and Chairman of the Board of The Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation, and Co-Founder and Producer of Ebertfest, the film festival now in its 24th year.

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