Ebertfest Friendships

by Marsha Clinard and Charlie Boast

EbertFest has meant a great deal to us since we began attending in 1999. A special “gift” was meeting Jimmy Edwards during our third year attending the festival. Being creatures of habit, many of us tend to go to the same seats, especially those of us who would wait outside for hours and hours (which we did before we became sponsors). We were in the fifth row of the middle section and behind us was this young man from Bloomington, a postal service worker who not only had a passion for movies but also knew so much about them. Year after year we sat together in those same seats and began to eat meals together and keep in touch in between festivals. We would travel to Bloomington to meet Jimmy for meals and conversation. Jimmy, a soft spoken and warm man, was a pleasure to be with.

A few years ago Jimmy was diagnosed with cancer and could no longer come to the festival. I would purchase a hat or a shirt for him the first night and send them, along with the program. We could then talk about the festival and he could, a little bit, experience it. As his health deteriorated, we visited him in his home more often. We would talk about Roger and about the films we had seen together. His home was filled with hundreds and hundreds of DVDs plus, on a shelf, his many EbertFest baseball hats.

The Sunday before EbertFest 2019, we went to say goodbye to Jimmy and told him what he meant to us and how much we loved him. Jimmy died on April 11. During this year’s festival we could not help but think about him and what the festival, and Jimmy, have meant to us.

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How I, Jen Shelby, do Ebertfest

I’ve attended and sponsored Ebertfest since one of my friends told me that I was really missing out about four or five years ago. I always knew about the festival because my brother grew up going to it, but my friend was definitely right; I had been missing out.

Each time I go to the festival, I really look forward to the diversity and the quality of the films that are going to be shown. People who go to a lot of the films really run the gambit of emotions and that’s why the best way for me to do Ebertfest is to get a festival pass and try to go and see everything.

When I go see all of the films, I make sure that I don’t read about any of them beforehand so that when I go and see them, I have an open mind and the films are able to give me a new perspective on their subject matter. In this way, I especially like to see the documentaries which are the films that have always had the most impact on me. Ebertfest does a great job at exposing me to documentaries and other films that I end up really enjoying, but that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Continue reading

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Why I, Betsy Hendrick, Come Back to Ebertfest Each Year

Roger and I had been friends since we met at the News Gazette when I was writing articles while in college and Roger was in high school covering sports in Urbana. Roger of course, was very brilliant and extremely kind and considerate. He was one of the few people I know who never interrupted anyone when they were speaking as much as he might have wanted to.

I’ve been involved with Ebertfest since the very beginning, both sponsoring and attending the festival, and each year my dedication to Roger and now Chaz keeps me coming back. The films are always fascinating and I become even more anxious to see them once they are finally announced. Continue reading

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Sponsor Todd Salen Remembers Moments at Ebertfest and with Roger

As of Ebertfest’s 20th Anniversary in 2018, the festival has shown over two hundred films, hosted over four hundred guests and trained hundreds of volunteers. Some of these volunteers were helping out even before the start of the festival itself, including sponsor, volunteer and once part time Virginia Theatre employee Todd Salen.  Everyone, including Todd, who was involved with the festival has helped contribute to its success and retain Roger Ebert’s legacy.

“Roger had this amazing gift,” said Todd. “His knowledge of filmmaking is like no other and for him to be so passionate about this festival, it’s important to share such an incredible talent.” Continue reading

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Why I Am A Sponsor

I am a curious person and an engineer (educated at the U of I). Thus, I am genetically and professionally given to asking a lot of questions. So when my wife and I considered becoming sponsors of Ebertfest, I wanted to know the pros and cons of sponsorship. Would I be able to talk with Steven Spielberg into the wee hours of the morning about his films, our philosophies of life, the future of mankind and whether there is other life in the universe (the director of ET should know, right?). There, in his hotel room (I figured his would be much nicer than mine), we, with a few other children of the night (nocturnal souls), would share, discuss, speculate and possibly solve the great questions of our time. That would certainly be worth the price of entrance into the Ebertfest sponsor family. Continue reading

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Roger Ebert Changed My Life

No sooner had I put “attending a film festival” on my bucket list than an announcement for the 19th annual Ebertfest magically appeared on my Facebook page. It was clearly fate that brought me and the Ebert Facebook page together. As a student at the University of Illinois during the same time that Roger Ebert had been the Daily Illini Editor, I felt a special connection to attending THIS film festival. After my husband agreed to join me, I quickly bought our festival passes. I was so excited! My husband picked up on my excitement and wanted to make this a really special experience for me. He did some online research and secretly upgraded us to become Ebertfest sponsors with VIP passes. At the time he gave me this gift, I thought it was very nice but had NO idea what amazing opportunities and experiences were in store for us. The impact has been life changing. Continue reading

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People I Know VIP at Ebertfest 2006

I headed over to the office of our assistant festival director at the time, Mary Susan Britt. As I dropped the Snickers bars on her desk, I picked up my volunteer assignment. Inside the envelope was the name of my guest and his itinerary. Bobby Zarem, fabulous Hollywood publicist and the creative mind who developed the “I Love NY” advertising campaign known around the world. I wobbled on my scooter as I went the few blocks back to work to begin my research. I was so excited!! A good host knows their guest. After all, the festival was coming up in the following week and there was plenty to do. When I learned that Bobby developed the famous NY ad campaign, I called my friend at a local t-shirt shop and had him whip up a t-shirt with the logo. Bobby would get a midwest welcome on arrival and know who was there to pick him up. Continue reading

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Ebertfest – Flashback

Ebertfest means a lot to me because I started helping with and attending the festival when it was an experimental event called Cyberfest(1997).


Cyberfest screened only one film, Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey, but it was a big success and Roger and Nate Kohn began planning the first Overlooked Film Festival, with a full slate of films and guest speakers. That first festival was in 2000, and I was the webmaster. Continue reading

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