(Chicago, Illinois--February 15, 2014) The University of Illinois honored Roger Ebert posthumously Tuesday night with the prestigious Illinois Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism. Ebert's wife, Chaz, accepted the award, presented at the University Club in Chicago, following a dinner and reception.
Ebert, one of the most influential film critics of his time and a Pulitzer Prize winner, is the first University of Illinois alumnus to receive this honor and only the sixth journalist overall. He joins Ben Bradlee, Seymour Hersh, Gay Talese, Nina Totenberg and Mike Wallace in this select club.
"I know Roger would be thrilled with this recognition, particularly coming from his alma mater, and with being placed in such esteemed company," says Chaz Ebert. "Roger didn't go into film criticism to win awards. He got into it to share his passion for movies. But this honor reflects the gift he had for connecting with audiences, whether in print, on television or online. That's what he was most proud of."
The University of Illinois' journalism faculty voted unanimously last spring to award the prize to Ebert, with the intention of making the announcement last April at his film festival, Ebertfest, and holding the presentation ceremony last fall. Ebert's death April 4, right before the festival, delayed those plans, but it didn't alter the school's resolve to honor Ebert.
"Roger was a brilliant thinker and writer who brought a passion and skill to film criticism that still hasn't been matched," says Richard Martin, head of the University of Illinois' department of journalism. "He didn't talk down to his readers. Instead, he made them feel as though he were right beside them, carrying on a conversation about an art form that he loved. We wish Roger were still with us and delighting us with his reviews, his wit and his perspective on the broader world around us."
Raised in Urbana, Ebert graduated from the University of Illinois in 1964. He joined the Chicago Sun-Times as film critic in 1967 and worked there for 46 years, until his death. In 1975, he became the first film critic to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize. His movie review television show with Gene Siskel, which eventually became the nationally syndicated "Siskel and Ebert at the Movies,
" turned him into a cultural icon.
Throughout his career, Ebert kept close ties with his alma mater. He was an adjunct journalism professor at Illinois, and in 2009 he and Chaz established the endowment for the Roger Ebert Program in Film Studies at the school's College of Media. In 1999, the Eberts created Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival, now popularly known as Ebertfest, held every April in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, and organized by the university.
Both the festival and the film studies program "are specifically designed to further Roger's vision of championing worthy filmmakers, promoting meaningful film criticism, exploring new technologies, and improving the human condition," says Nate Kohn, festival director. "Ebertfest is, in and of itself, a remembrance of Roger and will continue in that capacity for years to come."
This year's festival, to be held April 23 – 27, will open with a special screening of "Life Itself
," Steve James'new documentary based on Ebert's memoir of the same name. The director will be on hand at the festival to discuss the film, which premiered recently at the Sundance Film Festival to much acclaim.
Ebertfest will be held at the Virginia Theatre at 203 W. Park Ave. in Champaign. Festival passes are $145and can be purchased through the Virginia Theatre box office, thevirginia.org
For more information on the festival, visit ebertfest.com