Brett HAYS (SHATTERGLASS STUDIOS), Luke BOYCE (SHATTERGLASS STUDIOS), Nathaniel KOHN (EBERTFEST FILM FESTIVAL), Mary-susan BRITT (EBERTFEST FILM FESTIVAL), Jen SHELBY (SHATTERGLASS FILMS)
Roger Ebert taught entire generations how to love and watch cinema. Since 1999, devoted fans and film lovers have flocked to Ebertfest, Roger’s personal 5-day film festival, to watch, discuss and champion a few overlooked films. In the gorgeous auditorium of the Virginia Theatre, a classic 1500 seat movie palace in Champaign, Illinois, Roger’s hometown, the festival became a special gathering place for sold out audiences at all screenings. Until he lost his ability to speak in 2006, Roger introduced each film and conducted all after-film conversations, often more than an hour in length, with filmmakers and actors. After 2006, Chaz Ebert took over as host, with Roger sitting in the back row, as always. But in 2013, as the festival was once again sold out and fans were eagerly awaiting another exciting event, news came that Roger had passed away, only two weeks before the festival was to begin.
We knew that this would be a very special festival. We deployed a dozen camera crews to document the festival from every angle – the on-stage activities, the backstage dramas, the audience and their reactions, the media and most importantly how Chaz Ebert dealt with this impossible situation. Among the filmmaker guests that year were Tilda Swinton, Haskell Wexler, Richard Linklater, Jack Black, Joachim Trier, David Bordwell, Pablo Berger, Michael Barker, James Ponsoldt and Shailene Woodley. We shot interviews with all of them as well as festival staff and audience members. Many of those interviews were highly emotional.
We structured the film using Ebertfest 2013 as a point of departure to discuss the importance of Ebertfest to Roger and the community of film fans who follow his work. We have extensive footage from previous festivals, as well as footage from 2014 & 2015. Guests at that festival who have talked about Roger include Spike Lee, Oliver Stone, Bennett Miller, Steve James, Jem Cohen, Brie Larsen, Patton Oswalt, Tilda Swinton, Werner Herzog, Brie Larson, Michael Shannon, Bill Paxton, Keith Stanfield, Michael Barker, Jeff Nichols Paul Cox, Robbie Pickering, James Ponsoldt, Haskell Wexler, Michael Phillips, Ramin Bahrani, Steve James, Matt Zoller Seitz, Errol Morris & Patton Oswalt. We weaved together those interviews, festival and archival footage of Roger Ebert, and scenes from some of the festival films to underscore how the festival became an extension of Roger’s personality and philosophy – how it embodies his passion, eccentricities, empathy and finally his kindness.