Roger, Chaz Ebert Announce $1 Million gift for Film Studies Program at the University of Illinois

Apr 22, 2009 08:00 AM

Roger Ebert, the Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic, got two big thumbs up from the University of Illinois for a seven-figure gift to his alma mater. Ebert, a 1964 U of I graduate and widely regarded as the nation’s most visible and influential film critic, and his wife, Chaz, have made a gift of $1 million toward creation of the Roger Ebert Program for Film Studies Fund.

Announcement of the Eberts’ gift to the University was made during the 11th annual Roger Ebert’s Film Festival in Champaign. The film fest, an event of the U of I’s College of Media, is expected to draw thousands to the 12 screenings.

The University of Illinois will continue fundraising efforts to elevate the Ebert Program. And, when the principal of the Roger Ebert Program reaches $5 million, it then becomes the Roger Ebert Center for Film Studies, which will house the activities of the Ebert Program.

“The University of Illinois is deep in my heart as a great institution. It informed and enriched me. Although there were no film courses when I was an undergraduate, it nevertheless guided me in my lifelong love of film. I hope when this Program and Center are fully realized, they will inspire new generations,”said Roger Ebert.

“Illinois is so fortunate to have such generous supporters as Roger and Chaz Ebert. This latest gift and their vision exceed anything we could have imagined and, for that, and so much more, we are forever grateful to them,”said Richard Herman, chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “On a personal note, I am grateful for the friendship that my wife, Susan, and I have had with the Eberts. The moments we have shared are also bright and lasting gifts.”

After extending the College of Media’s “most gracious thanks to Roger and Chaz for this significant gift,”Dean Ron Yates said, “this gift could not come at a more perfect time. The College is formalizing arrangements to bring a new department on line—the Department of Media and Cinema Studies. The new Department will provide a permanent and stable home for the Roger Ebert Program for Film Studies.”

The Ebert Program, based in the College of Media at the U of I, will provide vision and support for the following:

  • Activities pertaining to film criticism, history, exhibition and production in the form of such things as symposia, research and publications.
  • Sponsoring seminars and workshops, locally and globally, about film, its ethics, the writing of scripts, criticism and reviewing, the political economy of film production and new production techniques. These seminars and workshops should bring together industry professionals, master writers, directors, and academics with aspiring writers, directors, producers and production personnel.
  • Producing and encouraging productive research on film.
  • Providing a locus of prominent motion picture professionals, including many University of Illinois alumni, to congregate, meet with students, share knowledge and network.
  • Supporting students and faculty in research, study and teaching activities pertaining to film studies through such things, depending on the level of funding, as scholarships, fellowships, research stipends, professorships and endowed chairs.
  • Study using appropriate film archives and special collections pertaining to film and film criticism.
  • Creating and conducting non-degree-granting courses and programs.
  • Sponsoring visiting lectures by major filmmakers or others in the industry to conduct courses, workshops and symposia.
  • Housing, supporting and managing the annual Roger Ebert Overlooked Film Festival.

This marks the second time Ebert has announced a gift to Illinois in conjunction with his film festival. In 2004, Ebert, an Urbana native and Chicago resident, said he would leave his papers and material to the Illinois Library.

Additionally, in 2001, Ebert gave the University about 22 cubic feet of 1-inch videotapes of Sneak Previews and Siskel and Ebert at the Movies, the two syndicated series that the film critics co-hosted for 23 years, as well as the subsequent series co-hosted by Ebert and fellow Chicago Sun-Times writer Richard Roeper.

Ebert, who began his journalism career at age 15 as a sportswriter for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette, was co-editor of his Urbana High School newspaper, The Echo, in his senior year. While at Illinois, he joined the student paper, the Daily Illini, in 1961. He wrote a weekly column and worked one night a week as night editor. In his junior year at Illinois, he served as news editor, and in his senior year, as editor-in-chief.

In 1967, he published a book, Illini Century: One Hundred Years of Campus Life, based on the files of the Daily Illini.

Ebert, who started writing film reviews for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1967, began his movie review television show Sneak Previews with co-host Gene Siskel, who reviewed films for the Chicago Tribune, in 1976. They co-hosted Siskel and Ebert at the Movies until Mr. Siskel’s death in 1999.

Ebert has been nominated for an Emmy many times during his career and he won the Pulitzer Prize in Criticism in 1975. He is the author of several books, many about the cinema, including A Kiss is Still a Kiss, an anthology of his reviews. Last fall his Scorsese by Ebert, which includes Ebert’s initial reviews of and new reflections on all of director Martin Scorsese’s films, was published.

He also has written screenplays, including the screenplay for the 1970 cult film, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, and has contributed to many of the nation’s top magazines and newspapers.

In addition to his degree from Illinois, Ebert did graduate work at the University of Cape Town under a Rotary International Fellowship and was a doctoral candidate in English at the University of Chicago, where he was frequently a guest lecturer.

A member of the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame since 1997, Ebert was made an honorary life member of the Directors Guild of America during the group’s annual awards ceremony in January. He (with Gene Siskel) was named Hollywood Radio and Television Society’s Co-Man of the Year in 1993 and he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2005. Chicago’s Erie Way was renamed Siskel & Ebert Way in 1995.

Roger and Chaz Ebert have been married for 17 years. An attorney, Chaz Ebert is vice president of the Roger Ebert Company in Chicago. And, since Roger lost his ability to speak in 2006, Chaz has been his public voice. Sharing his keen interest in books and movies, Chaz has been instrumental in the success of Roger Ebert’s Film Festival.

The Eberts’ gift will be included in the Brilliant Futures Campaign, the ongoing fundraising effort in support of the University of Illinois’ campuses at Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield. As of March 31, outright gifts, grants, pledges and deferred gifts totaled $1.606 billion, 71 percent of the $2.25 billion campaign goal. The fundraising campaign, which supports students, faculty, academic programs and other activities, began on July 1, 2003, and is expected to conclude on Dec. 31, 2011.

For additional information, contact:

Don Kojich
Associate Vice President for Marketing and Communications
University of Illinois Foundation

Also be sure to visit the College of Media