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Roger Ebert Was a 'Champion' and 'Voice' to Chicago's Film Buffs

By Alisa Hauser | April 6, 2013 8:38am

CHICAGO — Roger Ebert may have been "larger than life," but to the city's film buffs, he was someone who championed movies as an art form for anyone to enjoy.

"His voice and support of the film institutions in this city are inspiring," said Matthew Lang, 24, a lifelong Chicagoan who grew up reading Ebert's reviews in the Sun-Times.

Lang was among dozens who signed a memory book at the Gene Siskel Film Center placed next to a photo of the Siskel and Ebert, who won a generation of fans for their televised cantankerous critiques.

At that theater and other film institutions across the city, Ebert was remembered fondly for being a champion of small films that wouldn't be noticed or accessible to people without his help.

"He was someone who used his platform and exposure with admirable generosity because he realized that cinema is one of the greatest democracy," said Charles Coleman, film programmer at Lincoln Park's Facets Multi-Media.

Ebert was a big supporter of Facets, often coming in to check out DVDs before his health problems in recent years, Coleman said. At one point, the critic called Facets "a temple of great cinema."

"He knew that Facets is one of the remaining places where you can see some movies you can't see any place else," Coleman said.

Lakeview's Music Box Theatre honored the late critic by paying homage to Ebert's sign-off in his long-running "At The Movies" television show he co-hosted with Siskel.

"The balcony is closed' — R 1942-2013," the Music Box Theatre marquee read Friday.

Joe Rubin, 24, who worked at Bucktown's Odd Obsession video store for eight years before moving to Connecticut said he and "all of my cinephile friends were immediately aware" of his passing.

"It's not just that Chicago is losing someone [with his death], it's the film community as a whole," Rubin said. "...He was a a crucial presence because his writing allowed ordinary people to understand that film is a valuable art form."

And Chicagoans, including those who signed the memory book at the Gene Siskel Film Center, took Ebert's writings and opinions to heart.

"I signed it because I used to look at him every week," said Auburn-Gresham resident Magnolia Abrams. "I can't afford to pay for bad movies. He helped me figure out what's good."