Art Beat: 'FFCs' say Ebert made a lasting mark on their lives
The world seems bereft over the loss of Roger Ebert, our native son. And no group seems more so than his Far-Flung Correspondents.
A few years ago, Ebert plucked the bloggers and film critics from relative obscurity, after reading their work online, essentially decentralizing film criticism, FFC Wael Khairy of Cairo, Egypt, wrote after the critic's death.
"When it comes to mass communication, be it an article or a film review, the flow of
information has always been from the West to the Middle East or Far East and so on," Khairy wrote. "
It was always a one-way flow of info. The Internet is the first type of mass
communication that supports a two-way flow in a borderless world. Still, if you
think of the internet as this global media empire, you’ll find that it’s dominated
by certain core nations (US, UK, etc.) and these core nations impose their culture
on developing nations, so what Roger essentially did with this new 'foreign
correspondents' feature is more or less genius, because now we (as Far-Flung
Correspondents) were no longer at the receiver’s end of the flow of information.
This supports the idea of a global balance of information flow. I think Roger’s film
website is the first of its kind, for it’s the first website to offer a global
perspective on films."
Ebert also invited all the FFCs to Ebertfest.
They came. And they seemed star-struck, as if they couldn't believe their good luck, couldn't believe where they had landed.
As did many others, they basked in the reflected glory of the world's most famous and perhaps kindest and least cynical film critic.
At each Ebertfest, Ebert and his wife, Chaz, graciously hosted a brunch for the FFCs at the Illini Union. I tried to go each year to seek out stories and soak up the excitement the FFCs so obviously felt.
I noticed their love and admiration for Ebert, whom they called the Grand Poobah. He was their savior, the sun in their solar system, wrote one FFC, Michael Mirasol.
The Filipino, who now lives in Australia, commented at @flipcritic on Twitter on Friday: "If Roger hadn't found me, I would have been lost."
Mirasol also posted a link to his farewell tribute: http://wp.me/p2okvG-3U.
"Because of Roger's example, I have seen what true discipline, dedication and passion are," Mirasol wrote in part. "He was the embodiment of kindness and generosity. Of fairness and concern. Of loyalty and professionalism. Of humility and honesty.
"To me, he was a connector and a uniter. A reaffirmation of human goodness. Something we all want to believe in but not all of us live up to.
Mirasol and his wife are expecting a baby, so he won't be at the 2013 Ebertfest.
It opens Wednesday evening at the Virginia Theatre with "I Remember," a short film made by another FFC: Grace Wang of Toronto.
Wang told me in a phone interview "I Remember" is a narrative film with experimental elements and is about memory. It's her first film, and a direct result of Ebert's generosity and kindness to her, she said.
Like the other FFCs, Wang has felt "out of balance" since Ebert died April 4. Being an FFC changed the direction of her life, she said, as it likely did for the other FFCs.
She had been working as a lawyer, writing her "Etheriel Musings" blog (etheriel.wordpress.com) on the side. After Ebert began featuring her writing on his website, Wang eventally became a freelance lawyer to have more time to focus on writing and filmmaking.
"Without having met Roger and receiving his guidance, support and encouragement I can honestly say I would not be here with my first film or embarking on any kind of filmmaking," she told me last week.
Because of her regard for Ebert, Wang felt compelled to drive 520 miles from Toronto to Chicago last week to attend his funeral.
One of her best friends accompanied her, though Wang at first resisted having a travel companion, fearing her grief would make her bad company.
"But somehow a few hours into the drive we started talking about life and people and goodness, and I started to tell my friend about Roger and the endless examples of his generosity, wit and light and right then we decided to stop for food — our one food break in the entire drive."
They randomly chose an exit, turned right and there, right in front of them, was Ebert's favorite chain restaurant, Steak 'n Shake (now one of the sponsors of Ebertfest.)
"I almost swerved off the road and rambled something about signs and amazingness as we rushed into the parking lot," Wang related by email. "It was my friend's first time in the establishment. The place is large and beautiful. We had a lovely waitress and an amazing meal: Steakburger, shakes, sides, the whole deal.
"We took silly photos and reminisced about past travels, good memories. In the end, we realized that we had no idea what city or state we were actually in and I nonchalantly asked the waitress to write down the address on the back of the receipt. She brought it back with the number and street and I had to mumble awkwardly, 'Um ... can you please include the city and state?'
"'Sure,' she smiled. I looked down and it said: Kalamazoo, Mich. 'Sounds like Timbuktu,' my friend said."
Wang laughed, realizing it was the first time she'd laughed since hearing of Ebert's death.
"It was also the first full meal I had in days. I can't help but feel that Rog led us to that Steak 'n Shake to not only convert another awaiting fan who now can't wait to go back but to remind me of the important things in life: friendship, travel, memories, enjoying what life has to offer and to treasure the moments we have with each other.
"He is around. He is looking after us. The next day I didn't say goodbye. I just wanted to be in the same room with him one more time. But I know he is with us always."
Wang won't drive but rather will take a flight to the 2013 Ebertfest. There, she will greet the other FFCs as family.
"I know we all want to be there," she said. "We have a special bond because of Roger and the way he brought us together. For me this is a special kind of extended family.
"Most of us in our individual way had a special relationship with Roger. He made each of us feel very special. He was a special person to do that. We are all quite different."
Now that Ebert has passed, the FFCs feel like members of an orphanage, she said.
"We have been supporting each other in this difficult time. I think we are all looking forward to Ebertfest to be together again."
The newly designed http://www.RogerEbert.com will continue to feature the writings of the FFCs — the website describes them as "cinephiles from all over the world, hand-picked by Roger Ebert to write about movies from their unique international perspectives.
They include contributors from (alphabetically) Brazil, Canada, Egypt, India, Great Britain, Mexico, the Philippines, South Korea, Turkey and the U.S.
Jim Emerson, editor of www.RogerEbert.com, said Ebert knew he wasn't going to
be around forever and he wanted the next generation to carry on with RogerEbert.com.
"It was designed to be a place for movie fans of all kinds to come together and
create smart, informed, passionate discussions about film. Nothing would please him
more, or do him greater honor, and the FFCs are a treasured part of it," Emerson said via email..
Here's a link to the FFC/Demanders tribute page for Roger:
A second time
Richard Linklater, one of the leading independent filmmakers in the United States, will be at Ebertfest for a second time, this week.
Like other Ebertfest-goers, he expects the event to be a big celebration/memorial of Mr. Ebert's legacy.
"There never will be another like him," the director said. "There never could be. It feels personal to be there."
Linklater had obtained a copy of Ebert's memoir, "Life Itself," and had planned to bring it to have the author sign it.
"Selfishly, I feel cheated," he said. "I think we all do. But it will be kind of a nice tribute to be there this year."
Like many others have done in the past week or so, Linklater praised Ebert not only for his work but also his personality.
"It's that Midwestern thing that made him so real," he said. "He had a total lack of pretension and total enthusiasm for what he did. He was the best version of what we could hope for ourselves. He shared his passion with others, and he made the world a better place."
Linklater was at the 2011 Ebertfest with his movie, "Me and Orson Welles." This year, he will bring the black comedy, "Bernie," with Jack Black in the title role. Black is expected to be here in person as well.
"Bernie" will be shown at 9 p.m. Thursday at Ebertfest, a special event of Ebert's alma mater, the University of Illinois College of Media. The screening is sold out, but people wanting to see "Bernie" are encouraged to wait in the "rush ticket line" outside the Virginia Theatre.
UI theater master of fine arts alumnus Brandon Dirden has been nominated for a 2013 Lucille Lortel Award as outstanding lead actor for his performance in the Signature Theatre's revival of August Wilson's "The Piano Lesson" in New York.
The Off-Broadway League will hand out the awards May 5 at NYU Skirball Center. The Lortel awards honor outstanding achievement in off-Broadway theater in New York City.