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Chaz Ebert:  Festival Will ‘Celebrate Roger’

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Two weeks after losing the man who started it all, the 15th annual Ebertfest goes on in Champaign.  In her first visit since the passing of Roger Ebert, wife and emcee Chaz Ebert got a one-minute standing ovation from a packed Virginia Theatre Wednesday night.

“I am so happy to be with you this evening," she said.  "I was hoping that – you know, I always call Roger my boyfriend.  I was hoping that my boyfriend would be here with me, and he’s not, so I wore his scarf tonight.”

She also took time to thank the crowd for making the film festival the success since it started in 1999.

“It made him so happy," she said.  "And he wanted to make sure that the festival continues.  And so we’ll see what we can do about that.  But tonight, this week for the next five days, we’re going to celebrate Roger!" 

About six weeks ago, Chaz says her husband still had hopes for attending the festival despite a recurrence of cancer, and radiation treatments.

“In the last two weeks - I think he realized he was so tired, that he probably couldn’t go to the festival," Ebert said.  "So he started writing a lot of notes – and a lot of instructions. And he was sending them to (festival director) Nate Kohn, and to Mary Susan (University of Illinois festival organizer Mary Susan Britt) and to me, and we were like what, a sing along?”

And Ebert got his wish - as members of the University of Illinois Black Chorus, with special lyrics from the late critic, led a rendition of ‘Those Were the Days."

It was also the first major event since the Champaign Park District underwent a major renovation of the Virginia Theatre. 

Chaz Ebert says coordinators of Ebertfest came to visit her husband in the hospital in the week before he passed. 

"And Mary Susan was so excited, she told Roger that the renovations at the Virginia Theatre were beautiful, and that he would love them," she said.  "And he would."