Nate Kohn helped organize the inaugural Roger Ebert Symposium taking place in Urbana, Illinois, on Oct. 1, 2018.

Nate Kohn serves as organizer and panelist for inaugural Roger Ebert Symposium

Nate Kohn, a professor of entertainment and media studies and academic associate director of the Peabody Awards, will serve as a panelist for the inaugural Roger Ebert Symposium entitled Empathy for the Universe: Storytelling and Data Visualization.

The Roger Ebert Symposium will be held Oct. 1 at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications in Urbana, Illinois, in conjunction with the University of Illinois College of Media and the Ebert Center.

The symposium will explore the cinematic presentation of science and related subjects. Discussions of films that focus on science themes, including “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Interstellar,” will be featured along with interactive storytelling, data visualization and connections between the arts and sciences—all with an eye on the power of cinematic arts to bring a deeper understanding of nature, society and the universe.

“Science in this country is under attack, so we decided that we wanted to shine a light on science and see how films help us understand the scientific method and the importance of science in our everyday lives,” Kohn said.

In addition to his teaching responsibilities at Grady College, Kohn is the founding director of EbertFest, now in its 21st year. Ebertfest, was created to focus on films that Roger Ebert, the late Chicago Sun-Times film critic, believed were overlooked by audiences, distributors and critics.

“Ebert viewed film as an empathy machine where you could spend some time in someone else’s shoes to better understand other people’s problems, other people’s cultures and lives,” Kohn explained. “The idea for this symposium is that we should have empathy for more things than just people. We should have empathy for the universe.”

In addition to serving on the organizing committee for the symposium, Kohn will serve on a panel discussing science on the screen and will lead a question and answer session following the screening of an IMAX film called “A Beautiful Planet.” Most of the movie was filmed in space by former NASA astronaut, Terry Virts who will talk about the film. Kohn will be joined in the question and answer session by Chaz Ebert, widow of Roger Ebert, who speaks passionately about the importance of film in understanding empathy.

Kohn also directs the screenwriting track for the Master of Fine Arts in Narrative Non-Fiction program at Grady College.

In addition to hosting the symposium, NCSA will play an important role in the symposium by showing some its data visualizations. NCSA operates one of the fastest computers in the world and they employ artists who take data that comes from scientific explorations and visualize it so people can see the universe and move through it.

According to Kohn, the most important part of the symposium is its interdisciplinary nature. “The arts can help us explain and understand what science is all about, and this symposium marries the humanities and the sciences.”

It is expected that the Roger Ebert Symposium will be an annual event focusing a different topic every year.


Date: September 24, 2018
Author:  Sarah Freeman,