U of I to create center honoring Roger Ebert

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Efforts are underway to raise about $2.5 million to create a center named for late film critic Roger Ebert in the College of Media at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, officials announced Thursday.

Ebert was a Pulitzer Prize-winning movie critic for the Chicago Sun-Times who graduated from the University of Illinois. He died of cancer in 2013. The Ebert Center’s goal would be to combine the studies of film and ethics to encourage writers and filmmakers to think critically about film, according to the school and Ebert’s wife.

“Lots of colleges have film studies programs,” Chaz Ebert said. “Roger wanted a program that focused more on critical thinking and analysis and why you do certain things in filmmaking and the way you write about it.”

It takes $5 million to establish a center at the university. So far about $2.5 million has been raised, including an endowment from the Eberts, leaving about $2.5 million more needed along with approval from the university’s board of trustees. The money is needed to make sure the center is independently financially viable, said College of Media Dean Jan Slater.

The center will act as a clearinghouse for all things related to Ebert at the university. The school’s library has some of Ebert’s archives and the center will house the annual Roger Ebert’s Film Festival or Ebertfest. The center will offer special classes, symposiums and programming and filmmakers will be invited to speak, officials said.

Three university students also have been chosen to participate in a fellowship named for Ebert that will have them write media and film criticism for a year under the mentorship of Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips.

The Ebert Center is something Roger Ebert wanted, Chaz Ebert said.

“Roger thought of this as a way to give back to the university from which he thought he had gotten so much,” she said. “He loved everything about the University of Illinois.”

CARYN ROUSSEAU, Associated Press

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