Chaz Ebert has become one of the leading change agents in the entertainment industry, working to ensure that traditionally overlooked communities have the opportunity to develop their talents in the business.
Tonight, businessman, film producer, publisher of RogerEbert.com, and president of Ebert Company LTD. is being honored for his efforts to drive inclusion with the FACETS Legend Award at Screen Gems Benefit 2022 in his native Chicago.
“Chaz is so deserving of this honor as she is passionate about programs that help break the glass ceiling for women and people of color and provide educational and artistic opportunities for women, children and families,” said FACETS Executive Director, Karen Cardarelli. “We are inspired by his extraordinary contributions to the industry.”
Ebert began her career as an attorney, working as a litigator for the Environmental Protection Agency and later in private practice. In 1989 she became vice president of Ebert Company LTD, and in 1992 she married Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert. Her first efforts to promote diversity within the world of cinema came by sponsoring Ebert Fellows to participate in major festivals such as Sundance and Cannes.
“When I started doing this, it wasn’t just to consciously open things up,” Ebert tells Deadline. “I was talking to people who I found interesting, people who didn’t know how to break into the industry. They didn’t know anyone. They had no influence. But I thought they were talented and I thought, wow, I’d like to see their work.”
She was married to Roger Ebert for more than 20 years before his untimely death in 2013. Since his death, she has continued his field-building philanthropic work through a variety of programs.
“As president of the Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation…she has awarded grants to support films with strong social justice themes,” a FACETS press release said. “And it supports emerging writers, filmmakers and technologists with its endowment of scholarships, internships or awards at the Sundance Film Festival, the Film Independent Spirit Awards, the University of Illinois Ebert Scholarships, the International Festival Young Critics Program Hawaiian Film Awards, 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 Urban League of Chicago.”
Those initiatives have begun to bear fruit, expanding a field that was once primarily the preserve of white men.
“I know I’m pleased whenever I see an area open up,” says Ebert, “whether it’s on camera or behind the camera.”
In recent years, Ebert has become more involved in film projects, executive producing Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut, the 2021 drama. Step starring Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson.
“If you were to classify me as a personality type, I’m more of a producer,” explains Ebert. “I come from a family of nine children, I was the eighth of nine. And when you have a large group of people trying to do anything, you need someone who is very organized and very focused on what needs to be done and how to get people together to do it and how to raise money to do it. . That was my role in life. And so it became natural for me to become more of a film producer.”
Recently, he has turned his attention to directing. She is working on her first documentary, which will tell the story of Deborah Szekely, known as the “godmother of health and fitness,” which will celebrate her 100th birthday.the birthday on May 3.
“She started Rancho La Puerta Wellness Resort and Spa when she was 17 years old, and started the Golden Door Spa outside of San Diego. And she’s still going strong,” says Ebert. “I spent her 100th birthday with her, and the whole town of Tecate, Mexico, came out of her and threw a party for her. They had parties for her in San Diego. They had parties for her in Washington, DC She told me she still walks the mile a day. She sometimes she has to use a walker to do it, but she still does it.”
The film will explore the incredible dimensions of Szekely’s career that go beyond health and fitness.
“She opened a center for new citizens coming to the United States. She wrote a book that Congress uses today to tell her what to do when she is first elected to Congress,” notes Ebert. “Setting Course: A Congressional Management Guide it was his idea. She put it together and it is now in its 17th edition. He has lived an extraordinary life, and spending the day with someone who at 100 years old still inspired me was something I wanted to document.”
Ebert says he hasn’t decided whether the film will be a feature film or a short, but hopes to release it next year.
Meanwhile, tonight’s Screen Gems benefit, where Ebert will be honored, will support causes close to her.
“All proceeds will go to the Bross Scholarship Fund which supports underprivileged youth,” according to a statement. “The scholarships provide free access to the annual Chicago International Children’s Film Festival and Summer Film Camp.”