An important part of the legacy of the noted film critic, Urbana native, and U of I alumnus Roger Ebert has come home to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, thanks to a recent donation from the Chicago Sun-Times.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Archives has acquired the motion picture press kit files used by Ebert when he served as film critic for the newspaper. The files include 35mm slides and black and white glossy photographs, press release information promoting films from the 1980s through the early 2000s, as well as tear sheets of reviews by the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic.
Nine file drawers of color slides and approximately 57 file drawers of press kits for more than 5,200 films spanning a substantial portion of Ebert’s time as the Sun-Times film critic now reside at Illinois awaiting arrangement and description to make them accessible to students, scholars, and the public. The University Archives and the Communications Library at Illinois have already starting working together to create a complete index of all of the thousands of reviews Ebert wrote.
“This is an important story for the university to have,” said University Archivist William Maher. “What Roger learned here, how he honed his craft, got critical experience and gained confidence–all of that carried him forward. It propelled him. The university gave him that platform, at the same time that he changed the university himself.”
Other universities had approached the Sun-Times for the materials, however Chaz Ebert, Ebert’s widow and publisher of RogerEbert.com, wanted to see the materials go to the University of Illinois, Ebert’s alma mater.
“Chaz’s efforts to connect us with the Sun-Times have been an invaluable step forward to bring the Roger Ebert archival legacy home,” noted Maher.
There is little doubt that Ebert would be pleased with the decision. In Life Itself , Ebert’s 2011 memoir, he said, “I loved the University. It took me from childhood to my life.”
It was this influence and spirit that inspired an online exhibit all about Roger Ebert and his time at Illinois which made its debut at the 2017 Roger Ebert Film Festival this past April. The exhibit, created by the University Archives and containing examples of Ebert’s early writings as a student as well as his original correspondence with his faculty mentor, Dan Curley, is viewable at archives.library.illinois.edu/ebert.
Ultimately, the Sun-Times materials will reside within close proximity to the Roger Ebert Center being established within the College of Media at Illinois. The Ebert Center will offer undergraduate scholarships and mentoring, along with other programs to “inspire critical thinking and illuminate the human condition,” to those interested in filmmaking and film criticism.
“The College of Media is proud to have played a role in acquiring these materials for the University of Illinois,” said Wojtek Chodzko-Zajko, interim dean of the College of Media. “Roger loved this place; he established his film festival and the Ebert Center here, visited often and introduced us to Chaz, who has become a valued member of our media family. Roger’s enduring legacy is safe in her hands and with the University of Illinois Archives.”
For more information about the Ebert Center, visit media.illinois.edu/ebert .