ROGER EBERT AT THE SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

This article was authored by HARMON LEON at THE HUFFINGTON POST

As TERRY ZWIGOFF stated on stage at the historic CASTRO THEATRE: “There’s a murderers’ row of directors here tonight!”

The man who directed GHOST WORLD was referring to the cavalcade of cinematic talent on hand to pay tribute to renowned movie critic ROGER EBERT, who received the MEL NOVIKOFF AWARD at the 53rd SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL.

JASON REITMAN (JUNO, UP IN THE AIR), PHILIP KAUFMAN (THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING, THE RIGHT STUFF, HENRY & JUNE) and ERROL MORRIS (THE FOG OF WAR) all sang their praises for ROGER – whose love of movies has made him the icon of film criticism for three decades.

It was a thrill for me since I’ve always loved ROGER EBERT’S no nonsense review approach. The thumbs up has become embedded in our culture thanks to the man who started his career at The Chicago Sun Times and later went on to such movie review TV shows as Sneak Previews and At The Movies.

I once had the pleasure of sitting in front of ROGER EBERT during a screening at the CANNES FILM FESTIVAL. I enjoyed occasionally looking back at him, knowing he was in the midst of a big thumbs up moment – as he took in the film like a wide eyed kid in cinematic heaven.

All the directors present expressed their gratitude to ROGER for championing their early films that might have been shuffled aside by the public – small films that were made for the right reasons. TERRY ZWIGOFF remarked that ROGER’S praise of his documentary Crumb not only launched the film into theatres, but his glowing review felt greater than winning the OSCAR.

‘You don’t know if your film is good when you make it,” Errol Morris stated to the crowd.

“To me, it was Roger Ebert. I owe him an enormous debt of gratitude.”

JASON REITMAN showcased ROGER’S sharp wit. Mr. Reitman read his favourite scathing Ebert review that summarized the man’s outlook and love for cinema:

“I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.”

PHILIP KAUFMAN shared stories of his friendship with the kid with the golden thumb. He remarked that ROGER fit into the old school Chicago tradition of “tough, give em hell, no bullshit, tell it like it is.”

Battling jaw cancer over the last several years, ROGER proved that his fabulous sense of humor was still firmly intact. Speaking with a computerized voice via a laptop, he greeted the capacity San Francisco crowd with, “My little man is standing in his chair and applauding.”

(That was a decisive nod to the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE’S iconic film rating system.)

Speaking out against such Hollywood smoke and mirrors as 3D flicks, franchises, sequels, superhero and special effects films used as gimmicks to sell box office tickets, ROGER sang his praises for the evening’s film JULIA, which starred TILDA SWINTON.

“Let’s turn our eyes to the movie screen and make Francois Truffaut happy…and enjoy one hell of a great film.”

The SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL runs until MAY 6TH.

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