Joe Berlinger, documentary filmmaker
I remember being scared to death to approach him as a 30-year-old first-time filmmaker when I saw him at Sundance party in 1992 when "Brother's Keeper" was about to have its world premiere. I overcame my fear and he turned out to be incredibly friendly and accessible and interested in what I had to say about our new film. I gave him a ticket to our premiere, never imagining he would actually attend. But he quietly took his seat and became a huge supporter of the film. Not just reviewing it for the Sun-Times, he also included it on his TV show with Gene Siskel, which was critical to our theatrical success and a huge leap of faith on his part since we were self-distributing the film after not getting a distribution deal at Sundance.
He continued his strong support of our work throughout the "Paradise Lost: series (and beyond), passionately arguing for the West Memphis Three's innocence instead of just limiting his comments to critiquing the filmmaking. His on-air review of the original "Paradise Lost" in 1996 is priceless for how agitated he gets decrying the miscarriage of justice and the flawed legal proceedings, demonstrating an extraordinary passion for human issues that informed all of his film criticism. His support over the years, particularly at the start of our careers with "Brother's Keeper" and then "Paradise Lost" really helped put us on the map. Using his mainstream platform to champion independent cinema and documentaries in particular really helped usher in that golden period of documentaries being so popular at the box office that took off in the mid-nineties, for which I and my nonfiction colleagues will always be deeply grateful.
Jared Moshé, writer/director, "Dead Man's Burden"
I never got the opportunity to talk to Roger Ebert in detail. I met him once at a film festival and if he had time I would have told him how much I loved his writing. That wasn't always the case, though. When I was younger his writing annoyed me. I couldn't understand why he always seemed to find the positive aspects of even the worst movies. It wasn't until I started to get older that I realized what I thought was a flaw was actually his greatest strength. Roger Ebert could see the best in any film; he would praise as much as he would critique. And suddenly I found his writing inspiring. His piece on John Wayne commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Duke's death is one of my favorite pieces of film writing ever. As sad as it is to lose such a influential man, it makes me happy to know that all his writing and work will live on. I think I'll go re-read some now.
Next: "His thoughtfulness as a film critic arose in part out of his sense of responsibility to society as a whole."