Robbie Pickering, director, "Natural Selection"
Roger Ebert’s opinion was about the only one that mattered to me about movies from a very early age. So when I had my first film play South by Southwest, and I heard that Ebert was going to be one of the judges, I was overcome with a strange mix of joy and abject fear. We premiered at 8:45 am on the first Sunday of the festival, and I thought surely he wouldn’t be in the audience for such an ungodly early screening. But sure enough, there he was with Chaz. 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. And one time, around the five minute mark, I saw him start to doze off. It only lasted for a second because Chaz was there to elbow him (thank God), but my body felt like it was melting. I was finished. My stupid movie had put my hero to sleep.
After the screening and the Q&A, I came out of the theater deflated to find Roger waiting for me. He couldn’t speak and he looked frail, most likely because I can only assume traveling wasn’t easy for him, but he gave me a thumbs up and made me stand there while he took my picture on a little camera. I was so in shock that I can't even remember the next few minutes, hanging out with him in the lobby. A few days later, Roger and the jury awarded my film six awards -- including the Grand Jury Prize. And a few weeks after that, Roger invited my film, "Natural Selection," as a last-minute addition to Ebertfest. Once again, I couldn't stop myself from watching Roger the entire time -- sitting at the back of the humongous theater in his La-Z-Boy. Thankfully, this time, he never dozed off. Not even for a second. And the thought I can't stop from running through my head is, "Who else matters now?"