Roger Ebert influenced generations of film critics and helped millions of movie fans discover films they might not otherwise have seen. But Ebert is also a hero to directors, who saw in him a champion with the clout to rescue movies from obscurity, make pointed criticisms or spread his passionate appreciation far and wide.
TheWrap asked a number of directors for their thoughts on Ebert, and received these comments:
“For all film lovers, he was a legend. I can remember looking forward to his and Siskel's show as a kid, on local channel 11 – or was it 9? That empty balcony. The teasers at the start, the movie you really wanted to hear about at the end. Rooting for a disagreement, a respectful yet stinging argument.
“I ended up meeting him and his charming wife in an elevator at the Toronto Film Festival when I was there with ‘Requiem for a Dream.’ It was like meeting a childhood idol.
“He told me how ‘Pi’ was one of the last films Gene had reviewed, and that he had loved it. Turns out Gene was a math nut and also very religious. It meant the world to me. And the day I got those two thumbs up it meant bragging rights for a lifetime.
“Ebert finished our elevator ride with asking for a picture with me. With me?! It was an honor and I only wish I had had a camera with me.”
“For me, the great thing about coming here to America and releasing films is that this nation is obsessed with movies. Despite all the comings and goings in papers and blogs, people are obsessed with movies the way filmmakers are obsessed with them. And Roger was a great inspiration like that, and a great man. He loved film, and he remained so right until the end.”
“I read Ebert's ‘Great Films’ books for inspiration. He wasn't part of the pack, wasn't trying to be friends with the cool kids. He helped navigate a transitional period of film history in which a good film might have a budget of a hundred million or a hundred thousand dollars.”
“Roger Ebert was the champion of the underdog filmmaker. Early on, he told middle America about Spike Lee and Errol Morris and Ang Lee and myself and so many others. He gave as much attention to an obscure but brilliant foreign film as he did to a Hollywood blockbuster. He was a fierce advocate for art and free speech and for stamping out the ignorance that seems at times to be the lifeblood of this country. He answered only to himself and if you made a good movie he wasn't going to shut up until everyone saw it. He even started a film festival in the Illinois town where he went to college called The Roger Ebert Overlooked Film Festival — for movies that didn't get proper distribution but were brilliant.
“Over a decade ago, before he got cancer, he sent me a personal letter about how he was going to lose weight and get healthy — and told me I should join him. I eventually did, and I began down the long, slow road to a better self. He lost something like a hundred pounds and never felt better. And then cancer struck.
“But he never gave up – and I mean never. He was working last week. I'm certain most of us would have thrown in the towel by the time half of our face was removed. Not Roger. I visited him at his home after my last film was released and had a nice talk with him through this contraption on his computer that did the ‘talking’ for him. He commented on my use of Catholic priests in the film – priests who referred to capitalism as a sin of greed — and thought that was a very good way to convey the message to the public. But then he handed me a book to read by Richard Dawkins, the renowned atheist. He encouraged me to read it. He didn't believe there were going to be any pearly gates for him when he died.
“When I left his Chicago townhouse, I said to one of my crew members, ‘I think that's the last time I will probably see him.’
“The death of Roger Ebert is an incalculable loss for movie culture and for film criticism. And it’s a loss for me personally. Roger was always supportive, he was always right there for me when I needed it most, when it really counted – at the very beginning, when every word of encouragement was precious; and then again, when I was at the lowest ebb of my career, there he was, just as encouraging, just as warmly supportive. There was a professional distance between us, but then I could talk to him much more freely than I could to other critics. Really, Roger was my friend. It’s that simple.
“Few people I’ve known in my life loved or cared as much about movies. I know that’s what kept him going in those last years – his life-or-death passion for movies, and his wonderful wife, Chaz.
We all knew that this moment was coming, but that doesn’t make the loss any less wrenching. I’ll miss him – my dear friend, Roger Ebert.”
“Roger loved movies. They were his life. His reviews went far deeper than simply thumbs up or thumbs down. He wrote with passion through a real knowledge of film and film history, and in doing so, helped many movies find their audiences.
“Along with Gene Shalit, Joel Siegel, and of course Gene Siskel, Roger put television criticism on the map. Roger’s passing is virtually the end of an era and now the balcony is closed forever.”
“Roger Ebert was one of the great champions of freedom of artistic expression. When the power of independent film was still unknown and few would support it, Roger was there for our artists. His personal passion for cinema was boundless, and that is sure to be his legacy for generations to come.”