Throughout the week, Indiewire will feature remembrances of Roger Ebert from across the industry. Yesterday, we ran thoughts from filmmakers. Today, we're focusing on the indie executives.
Ryan Werner, freelance consultant/formerly IFC Films:
Last week as I was leaving my job at IFC Films, I received an email from Roger Ebert from the hospital wishing me well. I'll treasure it forever. Like most people my age who grew up in the suburbs, I realized movies were something more than entertainment from Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. I remember the first time I saw Roger Ebert holding court at the Cannes Film Festival in the American Pavilion. It was as thrilling as seeing Catherine Deneuve or Quentin Tarantino.
Many years later I'd travel to his film festival in 2004 with Jonathan Caouette's one-of-a-kind film "Tarnation." It was a great moment where you felt Ebert's blessing upon the work you were doing. This happened many times over the years and I always felt proud each time. However, that same summer of 2004, I was working with Vincent Gallo at the height of his feud with Ebert after the Cannes premiere of "The Brown Bunny." Ebert had famously panned the film -- so loudly, in fact, that the entire world heard that he had started singing at the end of the screening. Words flew between the two. Once Gallo finished the film months later, I suggested we personally travel to Chicago to show Ebert the film. Before I knew it, Gallo, Liza Burnett Fefferman and I were in Chicago meeting Roger, Chaz and Ray Pride in the lobby of the Lake Street Screening Room. None of knew what would happen. Liza and I left them to screen the film together, scared what we might return to. To our surprise, we found them shaking hands and talking after the screening. That Sunday, Roger published a report of the screening and their meeting. All was forgiven and days later he wrote a positive review of the film exclaiming the importance of editing. It was no doubt a publicity opportunity for everyone involved; however, it was also a showcase for what Roger Ebert was all about. He judged the film as he saw it and didn't make it personal. Roger definitely had his favorite filmmakers but he could judge a film first and foremost for what it was. Vincent was thrilled by the results as well. Liza, Vincent and I celebrated in Chicago that night with our local friend Gabe Klinger. We had all been touched by his generous feelings. Today, there are very few critics (let alone people) that a filmmaker could engage in such an exciting feud. There are even fewer people that settling it with could be as exciting. I'll miss Roger Ebert.
Ira Deutchman, Emerging Pictures/Columbia University:
I first encountered Roger Ebert when he was a young film critic at the Chicago Sun-Times. I was going to school in Chicago at the time, and he already had developed a reputation as being someone worth reading. I saw him from afar at the Chicago Film Festival and at other cinephile haunts in the city. After graduation, I moved to New York and starting working in distribution and marketing. I had an understanding of the Chicago market and knew that Ebert had become extraordinarily influential in the city, so I went out of my way to cater to his needs on films that I worked on. I made sure that the ads we ran in Chicago always led off with an Ebert quote (assuming he liked the film) and I would put any New York Times quotes underneath. It was both a show of respect and an acknowledgement of how powerful he had become.
When Roger went on TV with Gene Siskel, the stakes got even higher in that now he was influencing movie viewers all over the country. Fortunately for me, his producer at "At the Movies" was Andrea Gronvall, who was a classmate of mine at Northwestern. So, I kind of had Roger's ear, even if indirectly. Over those years, Roger's power had reached the point where he singlehandedly (sometimes with Gene) would create hits out of the most unlikely material. One such film was "My Dinner With Andre," which Roger saved just as it was about to disappear from screens all over the country. That wasn't my film, and it caused me major headaches because I had a film waiting in line to open at the prime art houses and after the "Andre" grosses took off, I had to wait many months to get an open screen. The two movies of mine that Roger had the biggest impact on were "El Norte" and of course "Hoop Dreams." Both were films that had the deck stacked against them, and Roger put both of them on the top of his 10 Best List for the years in which they were released. The rest, as they say, is history.
My personal interactions with Roger were mainly at festivals. He was a regular at Telluride, Toronto and Cannes among others. He was always friendly, loved talking about movies with anyone he encountered, and had fierce opinions on many other subjects, as anyone who followed him on Twitter can attest to. My favorite Roger memory took place at Cannes at some point in the early '90s. I was on a chartered bus that was to take a bunch of invited guests to a party somewhere up in the hills above the city. As I sat down, I noticed that Roger was on the bus. We started talking. After a while, we realized that the bus was going nowhere. The French speaking driver had no response to why we were just sitting there with the door open. Rather than get testy, Roger started entertaining everyone in the bus. He rattled off one-liner after one-liner and everyone in the bus was in hysterics. He went on for nearly 20 minutes, until finally the doors closed and the bus started to move. Everyone on the bus applauded.That was Roger.
I can't talk about Roger without mentioning his wife Chaz. What a lovely, caring woman, who fit in with any crowd that Roger brought her to. Since I only saw Roger a few times a year, and he was exposed to so many people, I always wondered whether he would remember who I was. But when Chaz was with him, she always knew right away and greeted me by name. I'm sure many will note with great awe how she stood by Roger's side through all those years of illness. It was an inspiring relationship between two remarkable people.
Next: "I can think of no public figure who has ever meant more to me."