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Ebertfest 2019, The Panels: Challenging Stigma Through the Arts; Women in Cinema

Before any films were shown in the Virginia Theater, the first full day of Ebertfest started off with two panels, highlighting different importances of empathy on a personal and expansive scale. 

At 10am, University of San Diego film instructor Eric Pierson led a panel titled Alliance for Inclusion and Respect: Challenging Stigma Through the Arts. Joining him on the panel were: Marcina Hale of Reconsider; Patty MacEachron, who has her own inspiring story of sobriety and works with the community concerning addiction; Chris Gleason, executive director of Rosecrance, which provides mental health and substance abuse services in Champaign-Urbana; Carol Bradford, a clinical coordinator at Rosecrance who is the daughter of parents recovering from addiction; and assistant editor Matt Fagerholm. It was an especially important discussion, especially as one recalls Roger’s stories of alcoholism, and thinks about Anne Hathaway’s character in Jonathan Demme’s “Rachel Getting Married,” which would play Ebertfest later in the day. 

The panel factored in images of addiction in film and TV, as mixed with some of the panelists' own experiences with addiction. They discussed a wide array of topics related to addiction, including the challenge of breaking the stigma of addiction, the gendered conversation about it, and the affect that it has on family. The panel was eye-opening with its different perspectives about the importance of family in the process, and also the right and wrongs ways to help break addiction in others. 

The inspiring discussion, which brought powerful reflections from people in the audience including Chaz Ebert, also branched out to images of addiction in movies and film, like the CBS show “Mom,” last year’s films “Ben is Back,” “Beautiful Boy” and “A Star is Born.” As the eye-opening conversation carried, it became clear that progress must still be made for more empathy when it comes to the pains and stigmas of addiction.

A full video of the panel can be found below: 

At 10:30am, Chaz Ebert moderated a panel titled Women in Cinema: Hollywood or Independent, Does It Make a Difference? Joining her on the panel were a mix of film critics and industry professionals: Jennifer Merin, founder of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists; “Bound” stars Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon; “Disturbing the Peace” documentarian Stephen assistant editor Nell Minow; “Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise” director Rita Coburn; Carla Renata, actress and critic at; and Michael Barker of Sony Pictures Classics. 

The discussion touched upon a wide variety of topics, as different perspectives were shared from professional standpoints. Gershon and Tilly talked about their experience in the industry, especially going up against sexist and even racist producers, on the ridiculous and offensive expectations that they have faced with regards to their appearances or their ages. Gershon even told a jaw-dropping story of how she was not considered white enough for some of the roles that she tried out for. 

Jennifer Merin talked about starting the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, saying that she started the group because “we are 50% of the audience … we need our stories to be told.” She cited AFI’s list of the Top 100 films ever made, and pointed that only 4.5 of those titles were directed by women. “We made a list of films that is entirely different,” and that list can be found here. Merin also highlighted that her website focuses on celebrating a film each week, many of them directed by women, in an effort to “pay attention to the films that are being ignored. We have to advocate for those films.” 

Rita Coburn shared her perspective on the industry as someone who is working in independent and commercial fields: “We need more representation across the board … there are a lot of films that aren’t being made because the women can’t even get in the door. They’re not even told to lose ten pounds, because they can’t even get in the room.” She added, “We need those big commercial films to say that these people, this race, are not monolithic … these are our lives that we are talking about, it’s important that we have an impact on the industry across the board.” Coburn also shared behind-the-scenes stories of being asked to direct only certain scenes for projects, which along with being extremely problematic, is not DGA sound. 

The late filmmaker Agnes Varda was on the mind of all the panelists, with Gershon reading off a quote from her: “I didn’t see myself as a woman doing film, but as a radical woman. I think I have the spirit, the intelligence, and dare I say, the soul of a woman.” 

Last year, Carla Renata was featured in an article in the Los Angeles Times, where she joined 13 other critics in a discussion of how media can be more inclusive. She echoed some of her words in the panel: “There needs to be more voices in the diaspora. When you have over 40 percent of the moviegoing public being black, Latino and Asian, that needs to be represented in the voice of the people who are talking about the films.” She added, “There are female filmmakers out there, there are female film critics out there. You’re looking at one. But we don’t get an opportunity like our male counterparts do.” 

A full video of the panel can be found below: 

Nick Allen

Nick Allen is the former Senior Editor at and a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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