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Filmmakers and Film Critics on Roger Ebert

Since Roger passed away, the day after and throughout the past year, there has an outpouring from filmmakers and journalists who loved Roger. This is just a selection of what they have written about Roger.


“I went and visited Roger last summer and talked about ‘Argo.’ I was in his home, and met his wife and saw how tough (conditions) were after his surgery. I was so moved by the cheerfulness that he had toward this, the sort of way that he bore that burden. I mean, for days after I left — he gave me a copy of his book and I read it, I just was so inspired by that. By a guy who was fighting something that was really debilitating, and was so gracious and warm and loved life.

It just broke my heart to hear that he died," he said. "And the fact that he wrote his last review of (‘To the Wonder’); it was viewed through the prism of this wonderful man who was at the very end of his life. And to see the movie through that lens was one of the most powerful things to ever happen to me in my career.”


“For all film lovers, he was a legend. I can remember looking forward to his and Siskel's show as a kid, on local channel 11 – or was it 9? That empty balcony. The teasers at the start, the movie you really wanted to hear about at the end. Rooting for a disagreement, a respectful yet stinging argument. 

I ended up meeting him and his charming wife in an elevator at the Toronto Film Festival when I was there with ‘Requiem for a Dream.’ It was like meeting a childhood idol. 

He told me how ‘Pi’ was one of the last films Gene had reviewed, and that he had loved it. Turns out Gene was a math nut and also very religious. It meant the world to me. And the day I got those two thumbs up it meant bragging rights for a lifetime. 

Ebert finished our elevator ride with asking for a picture with me. With me?! It was an honor and I only wish I had had a camera with me.”


“He had an ability to talk about any movie, no matter how complex, in a way that anyone would understand. On one hand, you have very intellectual critics, and on the other hand, you have the paparazzi. He had a way to cut through it all and go right to the heart of it without a lot of fancy talk, which is really hard to do. He wasn’t just a great critic, but he had lived a great life.”


“For me, the great thing about coming here to America and releasing films is that this nation is obsessed with movies. Despite all the comings and goings in papers and blogs, people are obsessed with movies the way filmmakers are obsessed with them. And Roger was a great inspiration like that, and a great man. He loved film, and he remained so right until the end.” 


“Roger Ebert.  Clear-eyed dreamer, king of the written word...”


“Roger was really supportive of all of my films, as a producer and a director. I got a chance to meet him several times and hang with him and his beautiful wife, too. Sometimes people are mean-spirited when they review your films, and with Roger, he found the good in my movies. I was blessed I didn’t get his thumbs-down, even with films that were not necessarily celebrated in Hollywood. He got me as a filmmaker. He was just a wonderful human being, a kind soul. Critics are set up to just jump on you. You put a year and a half of life into something for critics to just attack. But he wanted to like all movies. He was looking forward to enjoying a film; that’s how he began his critic’s process. I held his opinion in high regard. He will be sorely missed.”


“He fought a courageous fight. I’ve lost the love of my life, and the world has lost a visionary and a creative and generous spirit who touched so many people all over the world. We had a lovely, lovely life together, more beautiful and epic than a movie. It had its highs and the lows, but was always experienced with good humor, grace and a deep abiding love for each other.”


“If cancer came to take me piece by piece, I hope I could summon even a fraction of the grace Roger Ebert showed us, in such abundance.” 


"The most meaningful moment I had with Roger was at the Toronto Film Festival when I was there with my third movie ["Undertow"] and he'd responded really favorably to it. He was running to a movie and I was running to a movie in a different direction and we said "Hey" to each other and he introduced me to Chaz. He's like, "The movies can wait but this introduction can never happen again." I loved the moment of him wanting to introduce a filmmaker to his wife. I thought that was an incredible pause in our hectic, frantic festival life to have that kind of a human moment."


“Four decades back, at the time I was releasing my film ‘Aguirre: The Wrath of God,’ he was very enthusiastic about it and very helpful about it because he put it on his list -- I think it was the 10 best of all time -- and it opened somehow the curiosity of American audiences.

We did not meet very often. I can’t even say we were real friends because we did not see each other often enough. But we had a different understanding about cinema, and we had a very deep respect for each other’s work. That was more what connected us.

I always kept talking about him as the good soldier of cinema, because he started to call me that, and I said, “No, it fits you much better.” The last 10 years, he was a wounded soldier. But I always have a deep admiration for those who soldier on until there is no breath left in them.

He had a deep understanding of the elements of cinema. He was always looking for a stratum of truth, a silver lining of truth and how to accomplish it.

I was asked if his writing informed my films. No, it did not. Did the fact that we were in friends in a way change the course of my life? The answer is no. But knowing him made it better.

His demise marks the end of an epoch. I’m speaking of an epoch where we had serious discourse about film.

There was a fire within many people to talk about and write about and discuss movies. All this in the last two decades, all this has irrevocably and inexorably shifted into celebrity news. You can see that in print and on television. ‘Siskel & Ebert’ doesn’t exist. The replacement now is celebrity news. In the print media, one newspaper after another abandons its critics. They’re being replaced by celebrity news. It’s not just the invention of the media. It’s a big cultural shift. It has to do with audiences, it has to do with a massive, overwhelming trend. Because of that, Roger marked an epoch, which is not completely but is almost very much over.

There will be a long, long echo [of his work] reverberating for a long, long time… I’ve always tried to be a good soldier of cinema myself, so of course since he’s gone, I will plow on, as I have plowed on all my life, but I will do what I have to do as if Roger was looking over my shoulder. And I am not gonna disappoint him.”


“Making ‘Monster’ was a huge uphill battle. It was a tiny movie with very little money, and every step was a struggle. Even the decision to cast Charlize Theron: Today it looks brilliant, but at the time it made us a laughingstock because she was seen as much too beautiful to play serial killer Aileen Wuornos. We had no money to release the film, and instead of doing the festival circuit, the producers decided to put it out in screenings just days after we finished it. It was a dodgy proposal that this film would ever find its audience.

Then out of nowhere comes Roger Ebert with this amazing review, calling Charlize’s work ‘one of the greatest performances in the history of cinema.’ And when the movie started to get press -- thanks to him -- he kept talking about it, he kept engaging with it, addressing the other critics and really keeping the momentum going.

When you make a film, you struggle over every detail and you expect people to reflect your ideas and intentions back to you in very vague terms. But Roger saw completely what I was trying to do and reflected it back to me in words; he saw things that even people who were working with me didn’t see: that this film was an education in the human experience, letting you walk in the shoes of someone who is technically the worst kind of monster so that you can see how a person ends up in that situation. He understood that I wasn’t making a value judgment or justifying her actions, but simply trying to show how you could end up being a different person than you think.

When I won the Independent Spirit Award [for best first feature], I saw that he was there across the room, and I spent a good part of my speech talking about what he had done for the film -- how every time it looked like the film was down for the count, Roger Ebert would speak up for it and do something to keep it alive. When I said that he in particular was someone who had always given this kind of support to smaller, independent films, the room gave him a standing ovation.

I met him for the first time that night, and we had a wonderful moment. I wish that I knew how to give back more to someone like him. He was the critic whose thoughts I most wanted to hear on my work, and I’m sad that he won’t be around for that next time.” 


“I miss my dear friend, Roger Ebert. Roger was one of the first major movie critics to support my Joints, especially ‘Malcolm X’ and ‘Do the Right Thing.’ R.I.P.”


“I first met Roger in 1986. He interviewed my mother, Elaine, brother Michael and me for a story in the Sun-Times titled, “Mother Madsen’s Dream Comes True.” This was big-time for me. This meant real success. Roger Ebert interviewing us? Wow. We all gathered at Elaine’s apartment just off Wells Street on Burton Way. Roger was just like you’d hoped he would be. Engaging, intelligent ... and that laugh! It was very exciting for me, and I tried to stay cool. I had a habit of tousling my hair and giggling when nervous, and that was not at all who I wanted to be at the time. Roger didn’t seem to mind. He had a way of looking right into your eyes and drawing out who you really were. I knew he didn’t see me as a “bombshell” -- which is how I was being labeled at the time -- or Michael as a villain or my mother as just another pretty face. He just saw us as a Midwestern family that against all odds had made it out. I asked him why he wanted to interview us. He said, “I see something in you. I think you’re unusual. You are all filmmakers, and I guess I wanted to know why. I think you are all going to do some very important things.” Young and passionate, I tried not to be silly and start crying, but I might have, just a bit. When someone believes in you, you remember that for a lifetime.

Many years later, when it was my turn at the Oscars, Roger was a champion for the film Sideways. He was cheering me on all throughout the awards season for my best supporting actress nomination. I got to hug him before and after the big show. He knew how far I’d come. He knew how much I’d been through. I still felt like a starlet next to him, only now I had a thicker skin. He still had his great laugh. Even when that sound was taken from him and he would write on a small notepad, you could still hear that laugh.”


“If there was any downside to [‘Siskel and Ebert’’s] television success, it was that so many people only knew them from that medium and never sought out their printed reviews. I was one of those people. It was only with the invention of the Internet that I began reading Roger’s reviews, on his comprehensive website, and marveling at his writing skill. He is the only critic I know who unashamedly drew on his life experiences to explain his feelings about a given movie. It wasn’t a gimmick, and it never made him seem self-absorbed, just disarmingly candid.” 


“Roger Ebert was the champion of the underdog filmmaker. Early on, he told middle America about Spike Lee and Errol Morris and Ang Lee and myself and so many others. He gave as much attention to an obscure but brilliant foreign film as he did to a Hollywood blockbuster. He was a fierce advocate for art and free speech and for stamping out the ignorance that seems at times to be the lifeblood of this country. He answered only to himself and if you made a good movie he wasn't going to shut up until everyone saw it. He even started a film festival in the Illinois town where he went to college called The Roger Ebert Overlooked Film Festival — for movies that didn't get proper distribution but were brilliant.

Over a decade ago, before he got cancer, he sent me a personal letter about how he was going to lose weight and get healthy — and told me I should join him. I eventually did, and I began down the long, slow road to a better self. He lost something like a hundred pounds and never felt better. And then cancer struck.

But he never gave up – and I mean never. He was working last week. I'm certain most of us would have thrown in the towel by the time half of our face was removed. Not Roger. I visited him at his home after my last film was released and had a nice talk with him through this contraption on his computer that did the ‘talking’ for him. He commented on my use of Catholic priests in the film – priests who referred to capitalism as a sin of greed — and thought that was a very good way to convey the message to the public. But then he handed me a book to read by Richard Dawkins, the renowned atheist. He encouraged me to read it. He didn't believe there were going to be any pearly gates for him when he died.

When I left his Chicago townhouse, I said to one of my crew members, ‘I think that's the last time I will probably see him.’

It was.”


“Words fail me. Is it unusual to talk about loving a film critic? In this case, no. I truly loved Roger. And can't believe he is gone.”


“Roger really to me has been emblematic of a wonderful everyman approach to criticism. He never became jaded… even while bringing a very thoughtful critical eye. Roger being such a warm and friendly personality put a personal stamp on his reviews and helped to fight that reduction of film criticism to a simple number. When you have a relationship with a film critic like Roger Ebert… you were getting a really cohesive and coherent idea of what a film might have to offer.”


“For a generation of Americans — and especially Chicagoans — Roger was the movies. When he didn’t like a film, he was honest; when he did, he was effusive — capturing the unique power of the movies to take us somewhere magical.

Even amidst his own battles with cancer, Roger was as productive as he was resilient — continuing to share his passion and perspective with the world. The movies won’t be the same without Roger, and our thoughts and prayers are with Chaz and the rest of the Ebert family.” 


“Roger, I hope you're in an infinite movie palace, watching every film the great directors only dreamed of making. RIP, Roger.”


“He saw, and felt, and described the movies more effectively, more cinematically, and more warmly than just about anyone writing about anything. Even his pans had a warmth to them. Even when you disagreed with Roger you found yourself imagining the movie he saw, and loved (or hated) more than you did.

“I came late to film criticism in Chicago, after writing about the theater. Roger loved the theater. His was a theatrical personality: a raconteur, a spinner of dinner-table stories, a man who was not shy about his accomplishments. But he made room in that theatrical, improbable, outsized life for others.”


“Roger Ebert was one of the great champions of freedom of artistic expression. When the power of independent film was still unknown and few would support it, Roger was there for our artists. His personal passion for cinema was boundless, and that is sure to be his legacy for generations to come.”


“I spoke with Roger Ebert perhaps a dozen times, but only heard his voice once.

I first caught him at the Toronto Film Festival, where I had a short film in the program. I was 21 years old and I needed to shake his hand. I needed to thank him for being a part of my relationship with movies for as long as I could remember. I needed him to know that now I was a director, even if I only had 16 measly minutes to my name. I needed him to know that while infinitesimally small, I too was now a particle in the cinematic universe in which he was a force that had touched anyone who had ever picked up a camera or sat in a theater.

Like he’d done countless times in his life for others, Roger Ebert stopped and spoke to me. Even happily granted a photo. And for that moment, Roger made me feel like I had directed ‘The Godfather.’

After he lost his voice in 2006 following cancer surgery, I met Roger almost exclusively for interviews. His was the first face I saw when the lights came up after ‘Juno’’s premiere in Toronto. I lifted Ellen Page in the air, looked to my side, and saw Roger beaming as he applauded. The following day, I was invited to his hotel room for one of his first non-vocal interviews. His language software simultaneously thrilled him and completely frustrated him. What I remember most was making Roger laugh, for without his voice, Roger laughed with his thumbs.

In 2010, I was fortunate enough to be included in the San Francisco Film Festival tribute to Roger, where directors like Philip Kaufman, Errol Morris, and Terry Zwigoff sang a critic’s praises, expressing their gratitude for his reviews, even the brutal ones. For when Roger loved a film, he loved it … and when he hated a film, one couldn’t help but sense a frustration for the film it could have been.

If the cinematic experience brings a room of strangers together, bonding our hopes and fears, Roger Ebert somehow connected those rooms. And he did so with that thumb. A gesture so simple and beloved that it made it easy to forget that he was a Pulitzer Prize-winning wordsmith.

To be reviewed by Roger Ebert, good or bad, was to exist as a filmmaker. Artistry aside, this is one reason we make movies. We write and direct for the same reason we conceive children and build buildings. We’re looking for proof of our own thumbprint, a reassurance that we somehow matter. As a filmmaker, sometimes that comes from hearing an audience’s laughter or buying a ticket to your own film. However, there was nothing like – and I’ve confirmed this with many directors – the sight of Ebert’s thumb on your movie poster. Up or down.

My heart goes out to his wife, Chaz, the staff of the Sun-Times, the people of Chicago, and anyone who has ever been lost in a movie.”


“Roger would have told me to stop fretting and start writing. After hearing the terribly sad news of the passing of my writing hero, my friend, my television partner, I sat at the keyboard and tried to come up with the perfect lead to sum up my feelings about Roger Ebert’s death.” 


“Back in the ’80s, my career was at a low ebb. My last two pictures hadn’t made money and were made at a transitional moment in Hollywood, after ‘Heaven’s Gate.’ My first attempt to make ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ fell apart at the very last minute, I was absolutely exhausted and I thought, ‘OK, this is it, I probably won’t be able to make any more pictures.’ I wasn’t talking much, I wasn’t going out; I would see only a few people here and there. And then one day, completely out of the blue, I received an invitation from Roger and Gene Siskel to be the honoree at that year’s Night of the Stars in Toronto. It was just what I needed; it actually helped to bring me back to life. Roger knew that, I think, but he didn’t present it that way -- he was always encouraging, always affirming, but without making a show of it. Roger was just there for me, in a way that few people in my life have ever been. It meant the world to me.

The death of Roger Ebert is an incalculable loss for movie culture and for film criticism. And it’s a loss for me personally. Roger was always supportive, he was always right there for me when I needed it most, when it really counted – at the very beginning, when every word of encouragement was precious; and then again, when I was at the lowest ebb of my career, there he was, just as encouraging, just as warmly supportive. There was a professional distance between us, but then I could talk to him much more freely than I could to other critics. Really, Roger was my friend. It’s that simple.

Few people I’ve known in my life loved or cared as much about movies. I know that’s what kept him going in those last years – his life-or-death passion for movies, and his wonderful wife, Chaz.

We all knew that this moment was coming, but that doesn’t make the loss any less wrenching. I’ll miss him — my dear friend, Roger Ebert.”


“Dammit!  Roger Ebert died. My review: An iconic game-changer, Roger brought film criticism AND movie-loving to the mainstream. 2 Thumbs up.”


“Roger loved movies. They were his life. His reviews went far deeper than simply thumbs up or thumbs down. He wrote with passion through a real knowledge of film and film history, and in doing so, helped many movies find their audiences. Along with Gene Shalit, Joel Siegel, and of course Gene Siskel, Roger put television criticism on the map. Roger’s passing is virtually the end of an era and now the balcony is closed forever.”


"What marked Roger was love. A sense of love for this craft, a love for movies, and for watching movies, that was deep and spiritual. That’s why he loved Marty [Scorsese] so much, because Marty was very spiritual about it, like a priest. Roger had a bit of that. Even if he didn’t care for a film, he would write his review in a way that did not excoriate the filmmaker, it seems to me."


“Roger Ebert was a passionate critic who understood that he needed to not only appraise films but be a champion of cinema. He was always on the side of movies that needed that extra push. The only thing that tops him as a writer was his kindness as a human being. I will miss Roger very much and my heart goes out to Chaz and the entire family.” 


“I just don’t know how film critics can do it. How they can sit and watch everything. How they have the stamina to do that. The thought of someone saying to me, “You have to watch four movies a day for the rest of your life, and you can’t choose what they are,” is terrifying. I think the way Roger did it is, he really did love movies. I’d known him since I made my first film, ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand,’ when he took me to lunch at the Chicago Club. It was a great honor. Since then, I always had an audience with him for every film. We would just talk about movies we loved -- not what either of us was doing -- just shoot the shit about movies. He was a film scholar, but most of all, he was appreciative of entertainment.”

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