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Movies lost a great champion in Roger Ebert
April 5, 2013 - Andy Gray
Roger Ebert, first and foremost, will be remembered as a champion of the films he loved.
Folks seem to think critics take some perverse pleasure in ripping something to shreds. Yeah, some do. It’s a lot easier to draw attention to yourself saying something nasty than saying something nice, and in an Internet age where web clicks are interpreted as value, reviews that are the print equivalent of a flamethrower are more likely to attract eyeballs.
And Ebert wasn’t entirely above capitalizing on this, dating back to the “Dog of the Week” on “Sneak Previews” to collecting some of his most scathing reviews in book form.
But there never was any doubt that Ebert, who died Thursday at age 70, loved movies and did everything in his power to get people to see the films he believed were worth seeing. For 15 years he staged his own film festival dedicated to what he believed were “overlooked” films. He released two books dedicated to movies he hated, but there are three collections in his “Great Movies” series and another dedicated to his four-star reviews.
There are movies I sought out because Ebert and Gene Siskel were so excited and engaged by them. When I was in college without a car, I went to see “Diner” with someone I really, really disliked because Siskel & Ebert’s review convinced me I HAD to see that movie (30 years later, it remains one of my all-time favorite films).
Documentaries like “Hoop Dreams” probably never would have gotten a commercial release without their support.
I found out about Ebert’s death while in Cleveland in between interviews with the director and the producer of “The Kings of Summer,” the opening night picture at the Cleveland International Film Festival.
When I told producer Tyler Davidson about the news alert that had come across my phone, he said, “That’s devastating. He was a major champion of ‘Take Shelter’ (which Davidson produced). That’s a real loss, especially in the independent film world … You can count on one hand the critics that have that kind of reach.”
“The Kings of Summer” (which will open commercially in June) is the kind of quirky, hard-to-market but crowd-pleasing film that Ebert probably would have loved. For those mourning his death, the best way to honor the man is to seek out those movies that won’t open on 3,000 screens and be a champion for the ones that deserve it.
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