Julie Dash And Ava DuVernay Speak About Roger Ebert At Last Night's Tribute
Photo Credit: S & A

Julie Dash And Ava DuVernay Speak About Roger Ebert At Last Night's Tribute


Last night a celebration of the life and career of film

critic and writer Roger Ebert took

place at the Chicago Theater, downtown Chicago, and, needless to say, it wasn’t a sober affair. It was instead

one of humor, love and tribute to a man who loved movies, his wife Chaz and the joy of life itself.

Not surprisingly, there were many celebrities and filmmakers

who spoke tributes and fond recollections, or who were in the audience, such as Chris Tucker, Scott Wilson (The Walking Dead) directors Andrew Davis, Gregory Nava, Darryl Roberts and Steve James (whose

current project is a documentary on Eberrt), Tom Luddy, founder and director of the Telluride Film Festival, Michael Barker, president of Sony

Pictures Classics, producer Steve Jones, and also John and Joan Cusack who read a letter of tribute and appreciation from President Obama and Michelle Obama.

But there was a lot of laughter, as well a speech from former TV partner, film critic and Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard  Roper, who told a story about a post-Oscar awards dinner he had with Roger and Michael

Moore, during which a heated argument about politics occurred with Moore saying, in amazement to Roger, “Holy Shit! You’re more liberal than I am!”

Comedian/activist Dick

Gregory, who had the audience rolling and who told a completely wacky story

about Ebert (long before he met and married Chaz it must be noted), and the Old Town Ale House owner and writer Bruce Elliott, when Roger came into his

bar with a couple of women with “large breasts” (a point Elliott emphasized

repeatedly) and which wound up with them literally throwing drinks at each other.

The story had neither a point nor a punch line, but it was funny just the same.

However two filmmakers who gave their own personal

tributes during the celebration last night were filmmakers Ava DuVernay and Julie Dash.


DuVernay was exceptionally moving as she recounted the

times Roger entered her life, starting when she was just 8 years old, wearing

her pink overalls, while attending a rehearsal for the Oscars show with her

aunt, and meeting both Ebert and Gene Siskel, while they were they covering the

event, and had her picture taken with him. (See photo on the left)

She continued her association with Roger while she went

on to work as a film publicist in her PR firm, and never failed to get his unwavering

support to review and bring attention to smaller independent films that needed

to be brought to a wider audience.

Finally, as she began her own journey as a filmmaker herself, with I Will Follow and Middle of Nowhere, it was once again

Ebert who gave her films enthusiastic reviews, and through his Twitter postings, promoted her films to his followers and the

public at large.

And it was after Follow was released that she sent

him the picture of them together from years ago, when she was a little girl, to which

Roger responded simply: “WOW!”

Julie Dash spoke about Roger’s enthusiastic support for her

film Daughters of the Dust, when the

film first came out and needed a way to break out and get the public’s attention. It was Roger’s constant praise and drum beating

for her film that made all the difference, and helped to bring to the attention of the wider public. Julie thanked film his


support of black cinema in the 20th and 21st century” and

that “he allowed space for black films to dream.”

And she does bring up a sad, yet true point. Now that

Roger is gone, who are the mainstream film critics with a worldwide following

today, who sound out the call for black independent cinema?  Is there anyone, any major film critic today in

the mainstream media who, as Roger did, actively goes out to search and find

small independent films of substance and value that the larger public should be

aware of? Sadly there doesn’t seem to be

one right now.


New York Times? I hear they’ve just discovered this promising

young black filmmaker who’s beginning to

make a name for himself, named Spike Lee.


Weekly? Not unless Beyonce is in it.

Ebony? Seriously? When was the last time you

ever saw anything about black independent cinema in Ebony?  The new editors there are still waiting to

get that exclusive interview with Nat

King Cole.

Sure, of course, we do, every single damn day here on S

&A. But, in effect we’re “preaching to

the choir”.

Yes, of course, you can say that social media networking has changed the rules of the game, and that filmmakers nowadays can

beat the drums for their own films and bring them to the public’s attention by themselves. But there still needs to be someone who can, as

they used to say, separate the wheat from the chaff – what is worthwhile

from the dreck.

Filmgoers lost a lot more than a film critic with the

passing of Roger. They lost an advocate.

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