Ebertfest Extra | 'Selena' director was there when Eberts needed him most

Ebertfest Extra | 'Selena' director was there when Eberts needed him most

CHAMPAIGN — A bittersweet movie, a bittersweet moment.

When Chaz Ebert introduced Gregory Nava, writer and director of the movie "Selena," she told the Ebertfest audience about Nava himself.

Nava "was at the hospital bed when Roger transitioned, and ended up staying" to help out, she said Thursday.

He'd been with the Eberts because they shared a love of opera and had hoped to go to one together.

But on that day in 2013, Nava volunteered to help her out when Chaz Ebert was most in need.

"He canceled all his appointments to help plan the memorial and funeral services," she said.

At one memorial, Nava and directors Julie Dash and Andrew Davis all spoke, along with comedian and activist Dick Gregory, and Chicago-area actors John and Joan Cusack.

Nava repeated his respect for Roger Ebert, the Urbana native and Pulitzer winner.

"I look out at this theater, and you could fill this theater with filmmakers who owe their careers" to Ebert, Nava said. "Not a day goes by that I don't think of him."

Some favorite moments:

— On its 20th birthday, Nava said "Selena," a film about the life and tragic death of a Tejano superstar, is more popular today than it was then. Thousands of young women are influenced by the style of the late Mexican-American entertainer Selena Quintanilla-Perez and love her music. After one event with "the largest crowd ever," Nava said he was glad "something positive could come out of this."

Actress Jennifer Lopez, who starred in the movie, watched family videos of Quintanilla-Perez in order to expertly dance like her and lip-synch her songs in Nava's movie. Lopez became a singer later; out of respect for Selena and her fans, the late star's voice was used in the film.

— Nava brought his personal print of the movie at the last minute. Other than a few scratches at the beginning, it looked perfect.

"This is the original poster for the film," he said. He signed it for Chaz Ebert and Ebertfest. When she joked, "Who do you think gets to keep it?" Nava answered, "because of that, we got two."

— Nava said Lopez was at the center of the film. Though she'd been in an earlier film of his, she still had to audition. "I don't mind," she said.

— Nava got his second Thumps Up Award. The Golden Thumb back a few years ago was kind of pewter, he said: "Now I have two thumbs up."

— The moment in the movie when a 9-year-old Selena wows her father with a stunning singing voice.

— Documentary images of fans mourning the loss of Selena.

— After the movie, answering a question by reviewer and moderator Claudia Puig, Nava said studio bosses told him there were no Latina stars, even though there were male ones. He told them there were plenty — they just had to be found.