Return Ebert to Ebertfest

Return Ebert to Ebertfest

Two thumbs up for the proposal to place a sculpture of the late film critic Roger Ebert at the Virginia Theatre in downtown Champaign.

Urbana native, University of Illinois graduate, Pulitzer Prize winner and celebrated film critic Roger Ebert went out of his way to help put his home community and his university on the map. What better way to honor Ebert's memory than erecting a bronze sculpture of him at the Virginia, where he established the Ebert Film Festival in 1999.

Plans for the sculpture are the brainstorm of Donna Anderson, a local travel agent, but she's attracted a lot of backing for her idea, including the city of Champaign, the University of Illinois College of Media and the Champaign Park District. Local community members also have stepped forward to serve on a fundraising committee to raise an estimated $122,500 to cover the project's cost.

Much has been written about Ebert, who died in April after a long series of illnesses. His fascination with movies started when he was a child attending the now-defunct Princess Theater in downtown Urbana. He started writing for The News-Gazette when he was still in high school, studied journalism at the University of Illinois, won a job and ultimately fame as a film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. Through his writings and the popular television show he co-hosted with Gene Siskel, Ebert won a national following.

He always went out of his way to pay his respects to the community and the university that shaped his character and career. But nothing he did ever had such a dramatic impact as his decision to team up with the UI and the community for his annual film festival, a hugely popular event that draws film buffs from all over the country as well as top-level film industry movers and shakers.

It's also no stretch to say that Ebert played a significant role in the ongoing restoration of the Virginia.

Suffice it to say, the proposed sculpture is a terrific idea, both as a memorial and an attraction. Those who wish to donate can visit the fund-raising campaign's web site at http://www.Ebertsculpture.org or send a check to the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois, with the "Ebert sculpture" designation in the memo line. Checks can be mailed to Community Foundation, 307 W. University Ave., Champaign, IL 61820.

It's fitting and fun recognition for all that Ebert did for the UI and Champaign-Urbana.

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