A rite of spring

A rite of spring

This was an Ebertfest like no other.

The 15th annual Roger Ebert's Film Festival is a wrap.

Somber in tone — how could it be otherwise in the wake of Ebert's recent death? — it closed up another highly successful run on Sunday. Every movie was a sellout and the usual collection of actors, directors and technical people showed up. There was even a conga line, led by actress Tilda Swinton to the beat of a Barry White musical classic.

There was, in fact, everything but Roger Ebert, and his absence was a constant theme.

It is, of course, always sad when a giant such as Ebert, a Champaign-Urbana native, a University of Illinois graduate and a celebrated film critic, passes. But, at the same time, there is something to be said for embracing the collective emotion the event generated.

Chaz Ebert, Ebert's wife, spoke for many when she referred to the cathartic effect of emceeing the event.

"It was comforting because it felt just like where I should be and where Roger would want me to be," she said.

Though Roger Ebert is gone, Ebertfest will continue. Its run is open-ended, with hundreds of films selected for future festivals by Ebert and his co-producer Nate Kohn. Chaz Ebert has a standing invitation to continue her emcee role. The show will go on.

That's a good thing for a number of reasons. Film buffs love it, the community embraces it, and the UI's reputation is enhanced by it.

Ebertfest presents interesting, thought-provoking movies in an atmosphere where serious discussion among industry professionals is the routine.

It's really a miracle of sorts, but one created by Ebert's discerning judgment and personal prestige. How else could Champaign-Urbana attract the kind of high-powered movie industry professionals who attend?

To whom much is given, much is expected. Roger Ebert benefited tremendously from growing up in Champaign-Urbana, attending locals schools and the UI, honing his writing skills as a teen-age reporter at The News-Gazette. He was well-prepared when he began his career at the Chicago Sun-Times, and Ebert prospered by dint of his talent, education and hard work. He first gave us Ebertfest and his dynamic presence. Now he has bequeathed the festival and his memory to us to preserve for many years to come.

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