Roger Ebert honored for keeping it reel 

Roger Ebert may get “thumbs up” for dry wit and “four stars” for intelligence, but even those two rating systems — both of which he helped fertilize — don’t fully articulate the true value of the famous film critic and historian.

After all, this is the man, who, over the last four decades, helped much of the filmgoing public experience movies in a different way. Beyond the banter he shared on-air with the late film critic Gene Siskel in the duo’s popular syndicated movie review shows (“Sneak Previews,” “At the Movies,” “Siskel & Ebert”), he’s generated more than 20 annual volumes of “Roger Ebert’s Movie Yearbook.” He also nabbed the coveted Pulitzer Prize.

Now, it’s The City’s turn to applaud.

Ebert will be honored by San Francisco International Film Festival with the Mel Novikoff Award at a special event May 1 at the Castro Theatre, dubbed “An Evening with Roger Ebert and Friends.”

The award, named for the pioneering San Francisco art and repertory film exhibitor Mel Novikoff, who died in 1987, honors an individual or institution whose work has boosted filmgoers’ comprehension and appreciation of world cinema.

Directors Jason Reitman (“Up In The Air,” “Juno”) and Terry Zwigoff (“Bad Santa,” “Art School Confidential”) are also on hand, followed by a screening of 2009’s “Julia” starring Tilda Swinton. (The film is one of his favorites from last year.)

Ebert says he first met Novikoff at Cannes and that they “broke bread on occasion.” He credits the film exhibitor for being nationally influential. “Many careers were transformed by his support,” he adds.

Of his own longevity and influence, Ebert notes that he loves the writing process the most. “I love my years of creating an archive of perhaps 10,000 [film] reviews, and that they’re all available for free online,” he says. “And my blog has created a dialogue with other movie lovers. That has grown important to me.”

So has reviewing films. He pens about five reviews a week, all this after surviving a number of significant health ailments over the past decade, beginning with thyroid cancer in 2002 — health complications have currently left him unable to speak.

“After this illness, I discovered, for sure, how important writing was as an outlet,” he reflects. “I can’t speak, and produce more words [now] than ever.”

What helps him move through it all? Some sound advice he’s received along the way: “One day at a time — literally.”

An Evening With Roger Ebert and Friends

429 Castro St., San Francisco  
When: 5:30 p.m. May 1
Tickets: $15
Contact: (925) 866-9559;

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Greg Archer

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