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Ebert Symposium 2023 to Precede Ebertfest on April 18th & 19th

This year's edition of the Ebert Symposium, entitled, "Documentary, Violence and the Media," will precede Ebertfest at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign this month. The 2023 Symposium is dedicated to the memory of Roger and Chaz Ebert's beloved grandson, Joseph London Smith, who  tragically became the unintended victim of gun violence in Atlanta, Georgia, last August. The occasion of this year's Symposium will be used to interrogate the power of cinema to mediate violence, while exploring how cinema intervenes in this conversation. 

It will kick off at 7:30pm on Tuesday, April 18th, with a screening of William Greaves' 1968 classic, "Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One," introduced by Amir George, the Artistic Director of Kartemquin Films in Chicago. The following morning at 9:30am on Wednesday, April 19th, which also happens to be the opening night of Ebertfest 2023, Amir George will provide the Keynote address, entitled, "To Be Radical," of the Symposium in Room C of the Illini Union. 

The roundtable discussion, "Cinema and Media Interventions into Violence," follows at 11am, and will be moderated by Prof. Angela Aguayo, Associate Professor Media and Cinema Studies UIUC. Panelists include Rachel Kuo, Assistant Professor of Media & Cinema Studies; Denise Zaccardi, Executive Director and founder of CTVN (Community TV Network, Chicago); and Melita Garza, Associate Professor and Tom and June Netzel Sleeman Scholar in Business Journalism, University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign.

Concluding the 2023 Ebert Symposium will be "Cinema and Violence in Challenging Times," a roundtable discussed beginning at 1pm, moderated by Prof. Jenny Oyallon-Koloski, Assistant Professor Media and Cinema Studies UIUC. Its panelists consist of esteemed Ebertfest guests: director Edson Oda and producer Jason Michael Berman, whose film "Nine Days" will open Ebertfest that evening; Brenda Robinson, producer of this year's selection, "Marian Anderson: The Whole World in Her Hands"; and Max Libman, founder and programmer of the CU International Film Festival.

Below are the bios and headshots for the distinguished participants of the 2023 Ebert Symposium...

ANGELA AGUAYO, moderator

Angela Aguayo's research is centered around documentary production and media studies, and her work creates connections between production, theory, and history. She was selected as a James W. Carey Faculty Fellow, for which she will work on a book project called Collective Matters, which examines how traditions in the humanities, health care, law, and education manifest through documentary in non-theatrical spaces, addressing the rituals of media producing, screening, and circulating that bind communities across time. 

Her project called the Illinois Community Media Project—which focuses on people making and circulating media that is most aligned with the interests of that community—received funding from campus's inaugural Call to Action to Address Racism & Social Injustice Research Program. She has previously published Documentary Resistance: Social Change and Participatory Media (Oxford University Press), which explores a documentary’s capacity for social change.


Jason Michael Berman is the President of Mandalay Pictures. 

Berman was named in the 2016 Variety Dealmakers Impact Report, and in Variety in 2011 as one of the Top Ten Producers to Watch.

He currently has "AIR" in release for Amazon and Skydance, directed by Ben Affleck, written by Alex Convery, and starring Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Viola Davis, and Jason Bateman

Berman recently produced "Surrounded", directed by Anthony Mandler and starring Letitia Wright, Jamie Bell and Michael K. William, awaiting release from MGM/Amazon.

His other recent producing credits include Edson Oda’s Sundance award-winning film "Nine Days", starring Winston Duke, Zazie Beetz, Bill Skarsgård, and Benedict Wong

AMIR GEORGE, Keynote speaker

Amir George is an award-winning filmmaker and Artistic Director of Kartemquin Films. George has served as a programmer at True/False Film Fest and Chicago International Film Festival. As an artist, George creates spiritual stories, juxtaposing sound and image into an experience of non-linear perception. 

George’s films have screened at institutions and film festivals including Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, Anthology Film Archives, Glasgow School of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Ann Arbor Film Festival, Trinidad and Tobago International Film Festival, BlackStar Film Festival, and Camden International Film Festival, among others.

MELITA M. GARZA, panelist 

Melita M. Garza is an associate professor and the Tom and June Netzel Sleeman Scholar in Business Journalism in the Department of Journalism. She is the 2022-2023 Chair of the Standing Committee on Research for the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. She was a fellow at the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism. Prior to getting her PhD, Melita M. Garza was an award-winning journalist, working at the Chicago Tribune, Bloomberg news, and the Los Angeles Times during a two-decade-long career. 

She is an American journalism historian who studies news as an agent of democracy, specializing in English- and Spanish-language news, the immigrant press, and coverage of underrepresented groups. She is the lead editor of a forthcoming book that aims to re-envision the history of journalism. 

RACHEL KUO, panelist

Dr. Rachel Kuo writes, teaches, and researches race, social movements, and technology. Her current book manuscript, Movement Media: Racial Solidarities Across Platforms, brings together archival research and ethnographic fieldwork to examine historical and contemporary grassroots organizing and social movement media forms addressing state violence and U.S. democracy. 

Her new work examines transnational and intergenerational information systems in Asian diasporas and histories of mis- and disinformation. Her writing has been published in New Media & Society, Social Media and Society, Journal of Communication, Teen Vogue, Truth Out, and ACM Interactions. She is a founding member and current affiliate of the Center for Critical Race and Digital Studies and also a co-founder of the Asian American Feminist Collective.

MAX LIBMAN, panelist

Max Libman, a high school junior at Academy High in Champaign, has  combined his love for movies and desire for community action to launch CU International Film Festival (CUIFF), with the mission to provide a platform for the next generation of filmmakers to share their stories. CUIFF’s inaugural festival debuted in October 2022 at the Spurlock Museum of World Cultures to a crowded theater, showcasing eight short films from around the world that entertain, educate, and elevate. 

As founder and director of CUIFF, Max has been grateful to see this vision become a reality, and plans are underway for next year’s festival. Additionally, CUIFF is excited for its new partnership with Ebertfest and honored to have one of its films showcasing in the Ebertfest 2023 Short Film Program. To learn more about CUIFF, visit

EDSON ODA, panelist

Edson Oda is a Japanese-Brazilian writer/director based in Los Angeles. He graduated from the University of São Paulo - bachelor's in Advertising – and completed his Master of Fine Arts in Film and Production at the University of Southern California.

His first feature film "Nine Days" - staring Winston Duke, Zazie Beetz, Benedict Wong, Bill Skarsgard and Tony Hale - premiered at the Sundance Film Festival 2020 (U.S. Dramatic Competition), winning the Walt Salt Screenwriting Award.

Oda also wrote, directed and supervised projects for Amazon, Philips, Telefonica, Movistar, InBev, Whirlpool, Johnson & Johnson, Honda, Nokia.


Jenny Oyallon-Koloski is an assistant professor of Media & Cinema Studies at the University of Illinois Urbana–Champaign and a Certified Movement Analyst in Laban/Bartenieff Movement Studies. She serves as the movement analysis specialist for the Media Ecology Project (Mark Williams and John P. Bell, PIs, Dartmouth College) and is a faculty affiliate of the Eye Tracking / Physiology Lab in the College of Media at the University of Illinois. 

Her current book project argues for the storytelling power of figure movement and dance in musical cinema. She is also the director of the movement visualization (mv) lab and co-creator, in collaboration with Michael Junokas, of the mv tool, an embodied motion-capture research environment to study the manifestations of human movement in cinematic space.


Brenda Robinson is an entertainment attorney and producer with extensive experience in the film, television, and music industries. Brenda is currently Head of Film Finance and Inclusion Strategies for HiddenLight Productions, a global studio creating premium documentary, scripted and unscripted entertainment for film, TV and digital, founded by Hillary Clinton, Sam Branson, and Chelsea Clinton.

Brenda was most recently a financier on the Academy Award-winning documentary "Icarus" as well as "Won’t You Be My Neighbor" and "Step". She is an executive producer on numerous projects including the BAFTA-nominated "Passing", directed by Rebecca Hall, and produced by Nina Yang Bongiovi and Forest Whitaker.


Executive Director and CTVN founder Denise Zaccardi holds a PhD in Communications from The Union Institute and wrote the nation’s first dissertation on media arts curriculum for low-income, minority
youth. She earned an M.S. in Early Childhood Education from State College in Buffalo, and a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Dayton. 

She has participated as a media and education activist with a variety of local and national organizations. Dr. Zaccardi has received numerous awards for her contributions to the field, including the Christian Service Award from the University of Dayton, and the Service Recognition Award for Arts Educator from the Illinois Arts Alliance. 

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