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I grew up with Roger Ebert.  And though he’s white and we’re not blood related, I always likened him to that fun uncle that came over every Sunday at 4:30 in the afternoon via the tele (vision).  There I would sit, chugging a gallon of milk and stuffing my face with Twinkies, excited and laughing with Uncle Ebert and Auntie Siskel as they yelled at and berated each other on what movies were worth an up thumb or a down one.  Little did I know that Uncle Ebert would play such an important role in my (our) life so many years later at the Sundance Film Festival.  Were it not for Uncle Ebert hoisting his large frame atop a theatre seat to loudly exclaim his opinions on the double standard imposed upon “ethnic” cinema and race expectations sprouting from it, I wonder if I’d even be working in Hollywood today.  I wonder if BLT would have had enough juice to stand above the larger, more well-funded, highly star-studded competition films.  We owe Roger Ebert a lot.  Perhaps more than he’ll ever know.  We are entwined in so many unexpected ways…

THE BALCONY. the photo's somewhat blurry b/c it was taken on a 2007 camera phone

Flash forward to 2007.  Justin, Sung, & I were on the road doing yet another “grassroots/hobo publicity tour” for our new movie, FINISHING THE GAME, when we found ourselves in Chicago.  Ironically, one of our first TV interviews just happened to be in the same building as where “At The Movies with Siskel & Ebert” was filmed (the show’s title has changed a bit over time).  Even crazier, the producer who handled our publicity interview just happened to be the life-long friend and producer of Roger Ebert’s show.  In her black cowboy hat and smoker’s voice she asked us, “do you want to see where Roger’s show is shot?”  The three of us just looked at each other and said, “Hell yeah!”.  So she led us into the studio and there it was… the balcony and the two seats where, for years, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel sat debating their varying degrees of love and hate for movies.  It was pretty darn cool.  So much so that we asked to take a picture sitting in their actual seats.  OK, Justin and Sung did.  I had to kneel in between the two so I guess that kinda makes me the servant.  Nonetheless, it was pretty cool being able to sit in the chair of the guy who inspired me/us as a child and had a direct hand in some of the most amazing experiences of my/our lives.  Thanks Uncle Ebert!

The Studio where our FTG interviews took place

Sign outside “At The Movies” show.  Roger’s show.

Justin doing an interview.  Uncle Ebert looking over him.

Walking into “The Balcony”.  Black, cowboy hat wearing producer on left.  Nice lady.

Keeping the seats warm for Roger Ebert and company.

If you’re wondering about the “Ebert Moment” at Sundance, just drag the playhead to 3:00.  Enjoy.

34 Comments

  1. I feel like Ebert’s always been supportive of the Asian American community. He’s written about the whitewashing of the movies Extraordinary Measures and The Last Airbender

  2. How very exciting that must have been for you! I have always had a great deal of respect for Mr. Ebert. And for you guys as well. My husband and loved loved both of those films! You should feel proud.

  3. You are my favorite nephew!

    Uncle Roger

  4. I thought it was funny that this was written by Roger Fan. It appears as though Roger Fan truly is a Roger fan.

  5. I loved Better Luck Tomorrow, and I wouldn’t have known about it had it not been through Roger’s review. I’ve been fortunate enough to come to know him personally since then and he’s truly one of the most generous, open-minded, and thoughtful individuals I know. I wouldn’t have started writing about films had it not been for his support. Keep on making great movies you guys, and not because you are asian american, but because you are damn talented, and because there will be people like us who will keep on, and always keep on, watching them.

  6. Wow. Thanks for the thoughtful post, Grace. I think it’s awesome that you personally know Roger Ebert. He certainly means a lot to a lot of people. : )

  7. i think roger ebert definitely helped change the course of BLT… just being there during the screening where all the craziness erupted was truly a moment i’ll never forget. this year, being at sundance 9 years later again, it was great to see that he is still at sundance, watching films, supporting them, writing about them. i do feel lucky and appreciative that another one of our films received the ebert seal of approval and that he uses his powers for the little films that could.

  8. I remember this movie. My daughter (who was in prep school) and I watched it together and thought it was a lot of fun. I can’t remember how I heard of it, but I think someone in it attended her school (Webb in CA)

  9. Still amazed that only our (Evan’s) camera was rolling to capture that moment – otherwise it’d just be an urban legend. A once in a lifetime experience.

  10. What else would you expect from the man who penned “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.” His one and only produced script, as far as I know. And I don’t cite it with hipster irony or snarkiness. I genuinely like this movie – it’s clever, biting, fast paced, over the top, cool, and the best thing Russ Meyer ever directed.

  11. good story
    blurriest pics ever lol

  12. @Alfredo, what about FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!?! Come on, that’s Meyer at his peak!

  13. One of the best moments of all time for artists of color. Roger Ebert became my uncle on that day too.

  14. Cool! That would make us cousins, Lisa. : )

  15. awesome moment! haven’t seen this video in years.
    everyone’s related to each other somehow.

  16. Great recap of the significance of Ebert’s support. Is it true that the Sundance post-screening debate boiled over to the point of audience members throwing punches, or is that the stuff of urban legend?

  17. @D

    It was pretty tense. The feeling you get right before a bar fight breaks out.

    at one point, Jason Tobin (who played Virgil) screamed at the opinionated journalist, “I’m going to kick your ass!”

    Then people started standing up and verbally disagreeing with one another. Groups started to form with all sorts of different arguments and stuff beginning to erupt all over the Library Theatre. Things were right about to go from the verbal to the physical. And that’s when Ebert stood up and said his thing. it was like a splash of cold water on what would have been a pretty ugly fire. it was pretty frickin intense. if there was a punch or two thrown, i would not have been surprised. but it was a big theatre and we were way in front. it was pretty amazing to see Ebert inject his philosophy and reason on what was a very agitated crowd. it was seriously intense but it wasn’t an all out street brawl of the WWF variety…

  18. My friend and I watched my “Finishing the Game” DVD last night. She thought it was crazy and awesome. I just showed her the above video of Ebert defending “BLT”. Tonight she, her boyfriend, and I will watch it. She can’t wait. I told her how I had to wait for “BLT” to come on DVD, because it wasn’t showing in the theater in my area.

    I just love you Roger, Sung, Brian, Parry, Dustin, and John! You guys are awesome cause you don’t let anyone shovel bull crap down your throats and you guys have an awesome presence on screen! I wish I could just put you guys in a lab and duplicate you! LOL But alas, there can be only one!

    P.L.U.R.

  19. p.s. my friend bookmarked this site 😉

  20. Thanks Mai! Fighting! : )

  21. Anytime, Roger, and oh my gosh, I got mad love for Justin and the other other Roger!

  22. Thank you for acknowledging Roger Ebert’s hand in the success of certain “ethnic” films. It’s not he’s such a huge fan of movies with ethnic themes or made by filmmakers of color; he simply loves great storytelling and filmmaking and is non-plussed by the blockbuster or star-power or marketing machine behind Hollywood.

    In the 80s, he was one of the first critics to leap up and exclaim that “Karate Kid” was a special, special film. I remember my parents speaking about him for a good long while after that as a really great guy. It was so rare for a critic of his caliber to get behind a movie and cheer it on. I think he may have always appreciated the underdog and “KK” and “BLT” certainly fell under that umbrella.

    Anyway, he’s still a really great guy in my book and I love that you acknowledged his importance and contributions to the world of cinema! 🙂

  23. Loved BLT and seeing the Sundance/Ebert footage again. BLT is/was one of my favorite movies…a game changer and a classic, for sure.

  24. That was one of the coolest moments ever captured on youtube! Even before working with Justin on so many movies I loved BLT and Ebert was a cool dude for standing up for it. Like anyone out there in the film industry, I didn’t always agree with him. I had the fortune of grabbing dinner with him back in the day when I was invited to be interviewed by him on his “Most Underrated Film Festival” for the film “Panic.” He was a great dude. Sad to see him gone.
    Btw, hi Roger!

  25. I discovered Roger Ebert when I was about 13 and just starting to get into films. At first, I would only read the reviews of movies I had heard of and had some interest in. Then, bit by bit, I started reading them all, whether I had any intention of seeing the films or not. I would actually look forward to Fridays just because that was when the newest crop of films would be released and Ebert’s new reviews would be published online. It was my regular weekly Friday reading. I read nearly everything he put out religiously.

    To me, he and the movies were one and the same, inseparable. The movies just aren’t the movies without Roger there to review them. Going to the films will never be the same again.

  26. Strange as this sounds, I so loved reading his reviews as a teen and so felt I had come to know the man through his writing and so sensed that he was a kindred spirit that I honestly fell in love with him. I had a crush on him, if a high schooler can have one on a man in his 60s. And if she knows him as words on a computer screen.

    Btw, I didn’t even know he HAD a show! I only knew him from The Chicago Sun-Times’ website. You know when I found out? You know what the very first episode I ever saw was? The one where he and Roeper reviewed Better Luck Tomorrow! And both gave it a glowing review. I happened to accidentally discover the show one morning. I turned it on RIGHT when they were reviewing BLT and showing clips from it. I was baffled when I read the caption under the host’s name. I thought “ROGER EBERT?! He’s on TV? That’s him?!”

    How about that?

    And can you believe it has been more than ten years?