Jenni Olson, LGBT filmmaker and historian
I have always had the greatest admiration for Roger Ebert's socially engaged and straightforward style of film criticism. I think his thoughtfulness as a film critic arose in part out of his sense of responsibility to society as a whole. A great example of this is his 1995 review of Maria Maggenti's wonderful teen lesbian romance, "The Incredibly True Adventures of 2 Girls in Love." Roger first reviewed the film within the parameters of its genre, discussing the film's success as a love story and giving it an overall quite positive review; but he also then chose to conclude his review by addressing the film's significance as a lesbian film: "There has been much talk about 'family values' in movies. Because 'The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love' involves lesbianism, there are some who will never be able to believe it reflects family values. But it does." He then goes even further and calls attention to the inherent homophobia of the MPAA: "The R rating is ironic when you reflect how much healthier and more thoughtful this film is than so much mindless, action-oriented 'family entertainment,' and how likely it is to inspire conversation about its values."
Just one small example of how he elevated the occupation of film criticism and was one of its finest practitioners.
Lucy Walker, documentary filmmaker
I met Ebert when he chuffed onto stage at the Karlovy Vary film festival in 2002, kicking his legs and rolling his arms and pretending to be a train. The audience had been shifting around enduring a long awards ceremony that was managing to be both boring and scary at the same time (there was some annoying fire-jets on stage that must have burned eyebrows off in the front row, my face was red with heat about ten rows back). He got to the mic and spoke perfectly, intelligently and wittily. The audience -- none of whom had any idea who he was, it being an Eastern European crowd -- loved it. Why not be brilliant, memorable, lovable, unique and 100% himself? He made it feel like everyone else had just forgotten to do things well, or didn't care enough to tell things as they are. But I'm biased. He was giving me first award for my first film "Devil's Playground," as he was the head of the jury. Then later on his television show, when my film had not been qualified for the Academy Awards but managed to be nominated for an Independent Spirit Award, he declared that he loved "Devil's Playground" so much that he was giving it an "honorary Academy Award." Later, whenever I'd run into him at festivals and I'd remind him who I was, he'd stop me first, and remind me how much he liked my work. Now please everyone else forgive me, but his remains my favorite accolade of any I've ever received. How full of gifts he was for us all. Thank you with all our thumbs up, Roger.
Next: "For the next hour and a half, I didn't watch the movie or monitor the audience – I watched the back of Ebert's head."