Years and years ago, on a cold, chilly and snowy night, I was in Park City, Utah, hanging out at the Sundance Film Festival. A film I had co-produced was playing at the festival and I was as giddy as any young wannabe filmmaker would be. And when you attend an event like Sundance some extraordinary things happen, like when I hung out with my director, the one and only John Waters and one of the world’s most famous critics, Roger Ebert. I was in film geek heaven.
A couple of things struck me when conversing with Mr. Ebert, a man who I had watched on many a Sunday nights giving his thumbs up or thumbs down along side Gene Siskel and whose reviews I had read for years via the Chicago Sun-Times. Roger Ebert was wildly smart. He had a great sense of humor. And he was, most of all, very passionate about films. I had been a film major in college and thought I was pretty knowledgeable about movies, but in talking to him, I felt like a novice. He knew his stuff. He had to. Film was his life. I sadly have to say, “film was his life” instead of “film is his life,” because today Roger Ebert – at the age of 70 – has died.
He wrote about death in his book Life Itself: A Memoir saying:
“I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. I am grateful for the gifts of intelligence, love, wonder and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting. My lifetime’s memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris.”
And quite a life he lived.
Roger Ebert, through his TV and print movie reviews, was an extremely strong voice in the world of movies. His opinion of films led countless families to rush to the theaters to see a great story or to run the other way, avoiding the lines for that bomb that just happened to star a bombshell. Roger Ebert’s love of movies and appreciation of the art was evident, whether he was naming a film a masterpiece to deeming a movie a train wreck. You might not always agree with him, but his opinions came from a educated, experienced and fine-tuned place.
His energy, his intelligence and his enthusiasm for film – and for life – will be greatly missed and I’ll never forget that cold night in Utah, when I got to witness, first hand, one man’s undying love for film. He may have died, but his passion for motion pictures will live on forever.