By the time of his death in April of this year, Roger Ebert had firmly established himself as being, among other things, the most famous film critic of all time. For decades, filmmakers and film fans from all over the world relied on Ebert’s writings and television broadcasts to not only illuminate us on what treasures the film world had available for us that we might not have already seen, but also to deepen our understanding and appreciation for the great works that we had. He was one of the voices who helped elevate the world of movies from being viewed as a commercially-driven entertainment racket to being to seen as a legitimate art form as worthy of dissection and discussion as any other, and because of that the film industry has taken every opportunity over the last few months to pay tribute to the man as often as possible.
The most recent of these tributes came at the just-ended Telluride Film Festival, and now we have word [via Deadline] that the next is going to come during tomorrow night’s opening of the Toronto International Film Festival, where the fest is scheduled to begin with a video tribute to the esteemed critic ‐ including comments from festival co-founder Bill Marshall, former festival director Helga Stephenson, producer Robert Lantos, and others ‐ as well as with the presentation of a commemorative plaque to Ebert’s widow, Chaz. The plaque will match one that will also adorn a theater chair that has been dedicated to the legendary writer inside Cinema One of the festival’s year-round venue, the TIFF Bell Lightbox, so there’s a new place that Ebert devotees can start making pilgrimages to. Put it in your bucket list right next to eating at the Champaign-Urbana Steak ‘n Shake.
Why does TIFF, specifically, feel responsible to honor Ebert at their event? Because, much like he championed many underdog films over the years, Ebert was also one of the early champions of this particular festival, and is considered to be one of the voices that first drew attention to it and allowed it to grow into becoming the huge, influential event that it is today. “Roger was a huge presence at the festival for over 30 years,” said TIFF director and CEO Piers Handling. Adding, “He was one of the key people who put the Toronto International Film Festival on the map, and we feel it is only fitting that we pay tribute to Roger in the way we would hope he would have wanted ‐ in a cinema surrounded by friends, family and the Toronto audience, which was so close to Roger’s heart.”
If you happen to be among the lucky horde attending TIFF this year, this tribute will precede the festival’s opening night film, Julian Assange’s The Fifth Estate, tomorrow, September 5, in the Roy Thomson Hall just south of King St. For the rest of us, we’ll just have to be there in spirit, which will undoubtedly proceed our exhaustive consuming of all the festival coverage. Why do we go to and read about film festivals? Because, as Ebert did for decades, we’re always attempting to discover that next transcendent filmgoing experience that might make us remember why we started to think going to the movies was so important in the first place. You always have to chase the dragon of that first revelation, don’t you? Happy moviegoing, everyone.