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Ebertfest, Film Studies Inspired by Critic, Will Live On

Roger & Chaz Ebert

Film critic Roger Ebert and wife Chaz Hammelsmith Ebert attend a Blackberry Loves Mavericks cocktail reception for 'Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire' at the Royal Ontario Museum during the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2009 in Toronto. (Evan Agostini/AP)

The Interim Dean at the University of Illinois’ College of Media says efforts are ongoing to make sure Roger Ebert’s legacy is a large part of the school.

Jan Slater says a $1 million donation made in 2008 by the late film critic and wife Chaz will establish a Roger Ebert film studies program. Slater said the College wants to raise about $5 million to establish a center in Ebert’s memory.

Slater said the annual Ebertfest will be part of that program, but she said the idea is to offer something beyond that.

“The point was to have a Roger Ebert presence year-round instead of just every April," she said. "His love of film and his love of journalism would all be done throughout that. And so it could be anything from speakers, to workshops, to visiting scholars, you know, there’s a lot of opportunity there.”

Slater said the facility containing Ebert’s name would not be a separate physical entity, or serve as a degree program, but may offer courses.

Slater said there was never a question of ending Ebertfest, saying there is still a long list of films that Ebert hoped to bring to Champaign.

Slater said Ebert will still have a large influence on the festival beyond this year.

“He has a long list of films he wants to show each year," she said. "Obviously, we can’t show them all, and obviously, we can’t always have access to the people we want to come with the film. So we kind of pick and choose the films around his top priorities and who we can get, and all of that.”

The 15th annual film festival runs April 17th through the 21st at the Virginia Theater.

Those planners of Ebertfest include Chaz Ebert, who’s been heavily involved in putting the film festival together and post-screening discussions in recent years.  The News-Gazette confirmed Saturday that she would return as Eberfest emcee this year.

There has been no word yet of funeral services for Roger Ebert, but Slater says it’s possible that a series of memorials are held in different locations.

Meanwhile, the Virginia has been undergoing a series of renovations, supported in part by Ebertfest.

Champaign Park District Exeutive Director Bobbie Herakovich said a portion of the sales from the tickets and festival passes went to the restoration fund.

"So, when you have a venue with the kind of following that Roger had, it basically bring people from all over the country and the world to either perform or speak or volunteer," she said.  "So, in that it added to the vitality to what was once a struggling downtown and now is a pretty prosperous downtown."

Free public tours of the Virginia Theatre will be held Saturday, April 13th from 1 to 5 p.m.   The open house will include a performance on the historic Wurlitzer pipe organ.