Second annual Chaz & Roger Ebert Symposium celebrates diversity 

The Second Annual Chaz & Roger Ebert Symposium will take place this Friday, Sept. 27 at the iHotel and Conference Center in Champaign. The event is free and open to the public and everyone is encouraged to attend. This year’s symposium is titled “Creating an Inclusive Media and Cinema Ecosystem” and will feature speakers from a variety of groups to talk about diversity in film, journalism and advertising. The keynote speaker for the film panel will be Dr. Stacy L. Smith, founder and director of the University of Southern California Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, studying inequality in entertainment. The event is organized and hosted by Chaz Ebert, CEO of Ebert Digital, LLC, champion of women and diversity empowerment and the wife of the late, legendary film critic Roger Ebert. 

FF2 Media: Chaz tell me more about the upcoming symposium.

Chaz Ebert: There are four principles: empathy, kindness, compassion and forgiveness. I like to do things to encourage those principles. The first symposium was in 2018 and it was called “Empathy for the Universe.” We had astronauts and astrophysicists talk about the connection between creating empathy for the world, the universe and the environment, which creates empathy for the human kind. That’s the kind of thing we continue with our second symposium. For the second one, I wanted to do something that has immediate benefits for people, society and for some people who may be attending the symposium who are in a position to help create a more inclusive ecosystem. I decided to divide this into four different panels.

The first panel is diversity in film mediated by Julie Turnock. The keynote speaker Dr. Stacy Smith will present facts and figures about how far we have to go to create a more inclusive cinema ecosystem. We have some heavy hitters coming: Samantha Sheppard from Cornell University, Cael Keegan, Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, among others. We will talk about diversity in film, present the problems and solutions. Next will be diversity in journalism moderated by Professor Brian Johnson from the University of Illinois. The third panel is Diversity in Advertising and Communications moderated by Jason Chambers. These are the people we wanted to bring together. We want to talk about advertising and where it is and how that influences society and how it may cause positive change. The last panel is in celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month. We will have writer and director Gregory Nava (‘El Norte”, “Selena”). We will talk about why he puts certain images in films. I am very excited about the symposium and the opportunities. 

FF2 Media: Why is it important to have such symposiums?

Chaz Ebert: It is my firm belief that inclusion and diversity determine not only how we see society but how we begin to feel society and you can’t start healing something or change it until you admit that it was wrong and take a look at it and examine what was wrong and what you can do to make it right. It is important not to keep swiping conversations about gender, age, and sexaulity. We must bring them out and talk about them. 

FF2 Media: Why did you choose Dr. Smith as the film panel’s keynote speaker?

Chaz Ebert: She is the one who wrote all these reports on inequality of race and gender in Hollywood and over the years she has conducted studies and by publishing these studies she caused the studios to begin to move on and sign agreements to try to strive for a more equitable gender balance. She is a dynamic person!  

FF2 Media: What is the message we need to hear today about inclusivity and gender bias in the filmmaking business? 

Chaz Ebert: Life itself, to be healthy, we need diversity to thrive and evolve. All those things are needed for media to flourish. The symposium celebrates our differences and brings them forward about media and about the cinema that we are consuming.

FF2 Media: How important is it to have female film critics?

Chaz Ebert: I think that my husband would be pleased that we took this step – we did a gender balance of our critics. We have 10 main critics – five are women and five are men. I decided to do a gender balancing of our critics and it was easy to do. 

FF2 Media: In your experience, how do we close the gender gap in film and move forward to a generation where female filmmakers are the norm and not the minority?

Chaz Ebert: Dr. Smith will address this. Come join us next Friday, Sept 27 at the Second Ebert Symposium to hear that message. 

FF2 Media: How do you continue Roger Ebert’s legacy and how can we all as female audiences and critics continue his work?

EBERT SYMPOSIUM 2019 CELEBRATES NATIONAL HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH WITH FILMMAKER GREGORY NAVA AND STACY L. SMITH, FOUNDER OF THE ANNENBERG INCLUSION INITIATIVE

Chaz Ebert: One thing we take from his legacy is we talk about empathy. It is not as much about continuing his legacy as establishing your own. We each have our own voices. He was one of the kindest and most thoughtful people and that is a legacy I would like to continue. The things that I do I think they are right and they are good for the world and know when I wake up I am a woman and I know that I have done many things to help bring good as any man. Sometimes we just have to do things and not ask for permission. If you want to do something do it. 

FF2 Media: What is your message to our readers?

Chaz Ebert: Support films made by women. Look for list of movies and organizations that have list of movies that are made by women and women are trying to make. Support, go see them and seek out female filmmakers and organizations and see what you can do to help them. If a woman directs a movie or produces a movie than nobody sees then studios will say see people don’t see them. Make it your business to support films made by females. 

To find out more about the symposium and to register, visit: https://www.rogerebert.com/festivals-and-awards/ebert-symposium-2019-celebrates-national-hispanic-heritage-month-with-filmmaker-gregory-nava-and-stacy-l-smith-founder-of-the-annenberg-inclusion-initiative 

© Nikoleta Morales (9/25/19) FF2 Media

Photo courtesy of Chaz Ebert

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