BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
“I am an eternal optimist who wakes up each day with a sense of hope,” shares publisher, producer, and philanthropist Chaz Ebert. “It has been hard with the pandemic and the polarized political nature of our country, but I remain optimistic and am constantly looking for ways to help my community and my family. What I try to do is to concentrate daily on one or two things. Right now, it is on thinking about who would most benefit from being a part of the FACETS Screen Gems Gala.”
Ebert delivers a dazzling dose of that optimism to any conversation: a warmth matched with enthusiasm for life in the present moment, which for this moment includes appreciation for receiving the FACETS Legend Award at the Arts Club September 28. Thanks to this legendary lady’s participation, tickets are in high demand and the online auction is humming.
FACETS Executive Director Karen Cardarelli describes why Ebert was the obvious choice for this honor: “Entrepreneur, publisher, author, producer, and philanthropist, Chaz Ebert has spent her career championing overlooked films and filmmakers, providing invaluable opportunities for new and diverse voices. Her work as a film producer has bolstered diversity and change in the film industry.
“As president of the Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation, Ms. Ebert’s stated passion is about programs that help break the glass ceiling for women and people of color and provide education and arts for women, children, and families. We are inspired by her efforts in the industry and eagerly anticipate honoring her this year with the FACETS Legend Award.”
To Ebert, the widow of Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert, her mission to work with women and families dovetails with FACETS dedication to changing children’s lives through film.
FACETS is a national treasure for introducing people to film and to international culture. Since its founding by Milos Stehlik, it has broadened the horizon for so many children with the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, which annually features over 250 films from 40 countries, as well as film camps, workshops, and other programs, giving them a wider view of the world. In its digital components for children, filmmaking and storytelling are enhanced by skillful use of technology.
“I grew up in a family of nine children, and it was very costly for our parents to take us all to the movies. We watched movies most on TV,” Ebert shares. “FACETS not only furnishes many scholarships for kids but also the opportunity to have important film experiences at a very low cost.”
We caught up with Ebert between planes connecting her to projects and film festivals across the hemisphere. In addition to working on the FACETS gala, Ebert shared two other new projects where she is placing her talent and unbeatable philosophy: “I am writing a book to come out in Spring 2023 tentatively called The FECK Principle, short for Forgiveness, Empathy, Compassion, and Kindness. I want to do everything I can to show some of the love and compassion I received as a child.
“You don’t have to be born surrounded by this, you can learn it. I see such a hunger for these principles: when I talk about them almost always someone comes up afterwards and tells me about someone in their lives that embodies them and better the lives of others.”
Ebert had just returned from the Toronto Film Festival where she presented The Ebert Director Award to Sam Mendes for his body of work. “I love filmmakers who are about connections and bringing people together as Sam does,” she says. “At Toronto I was very impressed by a Sacha Jenkins’s movie about Louis Armstrong. At first he was criticized for not doing enough for Civil Rights. Jenkins shows empathy and an understanding that we can sometimes only just do our best at the time and points out his accomplishments.
“I was also so impressed with a documentary from Hilary and Chelsea Clinton called In Her Hands about the only woman mayor in Afghanistan.”
Explaining that documentaries give her great hope, Ebert described one of her newest accomplishments, a documentary about Deborah Szekely, the 100-year-old founder of Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico, known as the Godmother of Fitness. Titled The Wellness Warrior, Ebert’s film will come out in 2023. She will return to San Diego to continue filming following the FACETS gala.
“This is the first film where I both direct and produce, and it is a great pleasure to present this vibrant woman who still lectures and walks a mile a day. She says she may use a stick for part of this journey, but she does the mile daily,” she explains. “She and her husband first opened Rancho La Puerta in 1940 and then the Golden Door in San Diego in 1958.”
As president of the Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation, she has provided grants to support films with strong social justice themes, and aided emerging writers, filmmakers, and technologists with her endowment of scholarships, internships, and awards at the Sundance Film Festival, Film Independent Spirit Awards, the University of Illinois Ebert Fellowships, the Hawaii International Film Festival-Young Critics Program, the Telluride Ebert/TFF University Seminars, the Chicago International Film Festival Ebert Director Awards, and the Columbia College Links Journalism Awards in conjunction with the Chicago Urban League.
Her work as a film producer, most recently in Rebecca Hall’s Passing, has bolstered diversity and change in the film industry.
Ebert is a life trustee of the Art Institute and serves on the boards of the Lyric Opera, the Lincoln Presidential Foundation, After School Matters, and the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, along with the Honorary Board of Family Focus and the FACETS Advisory Board.
“With my work at FACETS, I have been so impressed with Karen Cardarelli’s ability to seek out others from many venues related to film to make Chicago more of a landing spot,” she says. “ Let’s make Chicago a place to do more.”
An online auction, which ends at 8:00 p.m. on September 28, the night of the benefit has also felt Ebert’s touch: bidding is open for two VIP Passes to Ebertfest, a 50th Anniversary Telluride Festival pass, and a Chicago International Film Festival package. A movie party for a FACETS full house of 127 guests watching the film of your choice, with popcorn and fountain drinks included and a cash bar available; four original movie posters for films starring Sidney Poitier donated by Reel Art Collectibles; and many other movie (and non-movie) related items are also up for bid.
Ebert relates, “FACETS itself, with its new renovations, has become a gathering place for the community to watch films with others. So many movie exhibition houses have closed recently, and this is another reason for FACETS to be embraced.”
To learn more about FACETS and to place your bids, visit facets.org.