Film Center Established at Roger Ebert's Illinois Alma Mater

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Chaz Ebert reveals her late husband's posthumous gift of $2.5M to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Chaz Ebert and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign announced April 2 the creation of The Ebert Center in the College of Media, funded in 2009 by $2.5 million from Ms. Ebert and Pulitzer-winning film critic and UIUC alum Roger Ebert (who died April 4, 2013) and from an anonymous $1 million donor.

"They had asked Roger to be a visiting professor, but he asked himself, what could he do that would outlive him, and that wasn't readily available," Ms. Ebert tells THR. The Center, which works with the existing cinema studies program and contains its own screening room/classroom, will combine interdisciplinary studies with the study of film, production and ethics, to encourage writers and filmmakers to think critically and craft more humanitarian films that tell stories that matter.

"At the Ebertfest film festival April 15-19, we'll announce the first three Roger Ebert Fellows, students who write criticism across arts and media," says College of Media dean Jan Slater. "They'll be mentored by critic Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune, and published in local media, hopefully, and on RogerEbert.com. Roger left us with a treasure trove of ideas, and Chaz will make sure we're keeping on track."

The Center will serve more than UIUC students. "Roger talked about Life Itself, his memoir's title, and the center will have a Life Forum program — for students and the broader community. We'll draw speakers and scholars even outside the film world, people from academia and the studios, trying to bring all of those disciplines together," says Ms. Ebert. "On RogerEbert.com, 30 percent of our audience is international, so we'll have visiting filmmakers, writers, philosophers, both domestic and international, coming through the Center."

The $2.5 million will be seed money for a $5 million goal, the minimum required for a center at the university. "We'll probably raise $7 million total, so it can be endowed," says Ms. Ebert.

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