Hollywood and indie film directors, comedian and philanthropist Dick Gregory, former Playboy chair Christie Hefner and the president of Sony Pictures Classics will join other celebrities, friends and colleagues to pay tribute to Roger Ebert‘s life and prolific career at “Roger Ebert: A Celebration of Life,” this Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St.
As Ebert loved gospel music, the evening will include musical performances by Walt Whitman and the Soul Children of Chicago and the Grammy-award winning Charles Jenkins and Fellowship Chicago Choir. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the program will start promptly at 7 p.m.
Guests will be treated to footage of great moments with Ebert and his co-host of many years, Gene Siskel, from their movie review shows. There will be heartfelt tributes from his wife of 22 years, Chaz, stepdaughter, Sonia Evans, and granddaughter, Raven Evans, in addition to the following confirmed speakers:
Andy Davis, director of “The Fugitive,” “The Package,” and “Holes”
Michael Barker, President of Sony Pictures Classics
Greg Nava, director of “El Norte,” “Selena,” and “Mi Familia”
Julie Dash, producer and director of “Daughters of the Dust”
Dick Gregory, comedian and philanthropist
Ava Duvernay, director of “I Will Follow” and “Middle of Nowhere”
Richard Roeper, film critic, columnist and co-host of “Ebert & Roeper At the Movies”
Thea Flaum, creator/producer of the “Siskel & Ebert” TV series
Tom Luddy, co-founder of the Telluride Film Festival
Bill Kurtis, award-winning broadcast journalist and producer and the Voice of Roger on “Ebert Presents at the Movies”
Christie Hefner, former Chair and CEO of Playboy
Milos Stehlik, founder of Facets, largest supplier of independent films
Marlene Iglitzen Siskel, wife of Gene Siskel
Marca Bristo, founder of Access Living and disabilities rights pioneer
Monica and Magan Eng, journalists and longtime friends
Bruce Elliot, author, TV show host
Josh Golden, founder of Table XI Digital and co-founder of Ebert Digital
Ebert will be honored next week, April 17-21, at Ebertfest, his film festival in Champagne-Urbana, Illinois, celebrating its 15th year. He programmed all the movies before his death. Ebert also will be honored posthumously with the Sundance Vanguard Leadership Award, to be presented by Robert Redford on June 5 in Los Angeles. The event is being chaired by television writer and producer Norman Lear and his wife, Lyn.
Redford said of Ebert: “Among the many things I admire about Roger Ebert is how he has long supported freedom of artistic expression. When I started Sundance in 1980, and when few would support us, Roger was there. This was one of the ways he communicated his forward-thinking outlook. He was one of the first to support our artists. His influence and reach is as meaningful as his personal passion for cinema, and he certainly deserves this award.”
Ebert’s long relationship with the Chicago Theatre, where he attended film screenings for years, makes it a fitting venue for an event celebrating a man dubbed “the world’s film critic.” Ebert also has the only star on the sidewalk in front of the theater beneath the grand marquee. The Chicago Sun-Times critic of 46 years died April 4 in Chicago. A day earlier, he had announced on his blog he was relaunching his web site, RogerEbert.com but taking a “leave of presence.” The redesigned, highly interactive site was launched Monday night.
Thursday’s memorial tribute is free and open to the public, but space is limited. To reserve a seat send an email to [email protected], or call 773-528-7700. Tickets can be picked up at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St., on Wednesday from 12 to 8 p.m. and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tickets are first-come-first-served and required for entry.