Roger Ebert was alive and well at the third annual Celebrate Sundance Institute benefit in Los Angeles Wednesday night, which honored him by establishing the Roger Ebert Scholarship for Film Criticism. The fund will make grants to six to eight young critics that allow them to attend and cover the 2014 Sundance Film Festival as part of the Indiewire Critics Academy, a workshop for aspiring film critics.
Ebert also received the Vanguard Leadership Award in Memoriam, presented by Robert Redford to Chaz Ebert.
Actress Kerry Washington also presented the Vanguard Award to "Fruitvale Station" filmmaker Ryan Coogler. "Fruitvale Station" was part of Sundance Institute's Screenwriters Lab and later won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. The award honors emerging artists with creative independence and comes with a cash grant and mentorship from industry professionals and the Institute’s Feature Film Program staff.
“Roger Ebert was, without question, one of the greatest champions of independent filmmaking talent the world has ever known," said Sundance Institute executive director Keri Putnam. "He was also an extremely generous supporter of aspiring film critics, and in that spirit, we have established the Roger Ebert Scholarship for Film Criticism.” The public also can contribute to the scholarship fund here.
Redford recalled meeting Ebert for the first time at Sundance in 1980 -- back when Ebert had not made the transition from reporter to critic and Redford's Sundance property had no buildings, much less a festival. Redford recalled sitting on the grass with Michelle Satter, discussing setting up the progams that would become the Institute workshops, when he saw Ebert -- and when he discovered he was a journalist, wanted to get him kicked out.
Instead, he accepted Ebert's invitation to take a walk and hear him out. "I saw that he was serious about seeing the process," Redford recalled. He carried the same voice as many (writers) who emerged from Chicago before. He was a good writer and journalist and a film guy in the broadest sense."
The Ebert portion of the evening began with a video clip by Steve James, excerpted from the documentary he's directing about Ebert's life. It included heartfelt words from Errol Morris, Barbara Kopple, Gregory Nava and Werner Herzog, who described Ebert as no less than "the consciousness of cinema."
Chaz Ebert, who was the evening's final speaker, told Coogler that "Fruitvale Station" was "a film that my husband would have loved." She read a passage that Ebert wrote not long before he died, intended to honor Redford and Sundance. "Entertainment at its best," Ebert wrote, "is putting the jaws of life to imagination and releasing the possibilities."
Of Ebert, she said, "I loved him so much because I saw the light in him I saw perfection I saw beauty I saw inside his soul."