Nate Kohn co-hosts virtual Ebert Symposium discussion about the film industry during COVID-19 and social justice reform

Nate Kohn, professor in the Department of Entertainment and Media Studies at Grady College, will co-host the first discussion of the Ebert Symposium on Oct. 8, talking about how the film industry is facing new realities because of COVID-19 and the recent focus in social justice reform.

Kohn also directs Roger Ebert’s Film Festival.

The Symposium brings together esteemed filmmakers, studio executives, media luminaries, entertainment attorneys and academics to contextualize the media’s change amid the backdrop of a global pandemic, social unrest over the killings of Black Americans by police and efforts to dismantle systemic racism in the United States.

“The entertainment industry is at an inflection point,” said Kohn, who also teaches in the new MFA in Film, Television and Digital Media program at UGA. “How will the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement change how we make and see movies? It feels as if things will never be the same, even after the pandemic ends. Is that feeling valid? We hope to find out.”

The first session, which was pre-recorded so video and stills could be added to enhance the discussion, will be streamed Oct. 8 on both the Ebertfest YouTube channel and Facebook page at 6 p.m. EST.

In addition to Kohn, the discussion will be co-hosted by Chaz Ebert, CEO of Ebert Digital and publisher of the film review website Rogerebert.com.

“Roger was always curious about change and experimented early with new technologies, embracing most of them, helping to shape his world view,” Kohn said of the film critic who died in 2013. “We are privileged to be able to deploy his wisdom to engage contemporary challenges.”=

The series premiere, “Movies in a Time of Change,” will examine production challenges, the impact of cinemas closing, how movies get made, our stories and who gets to tell them, how films are exhibited and the push for more inclusion and equitable representation.

Panelists will include:

  • Melissa Haizlip, writer and producer, (“Mr. SOUL!”)
  • Malcolm Lee, director, producer and screenwriter (“Girls Trip,” “The Best Man”)
  • Mary Mazzio, founder and CEO of 50 Eggs Inc., an independent film production company dedicated to making socially impactful films (“I AM JANE DOE and “A Most Beautiful Thing”)
  • Christine Swanson, writer and director of award-winning film and TV shows (“Chicago PD”; “The Clark Sisters: The First Ladies of Gospel”)
  • Michael Barker, co-founder and co-president, Sony Pictures Classics
  • Neil Block, head of distribution and marketing with Magnolia Pictures
  • Darrien Michele Gipson, executive director of SAGindie, which connects actors with independent filmmakers
  • Nina Shaw, and entertainment lawyer

The symposium is produced by University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, College of Media.

Part two of the Symposium is Oct. 22 and will look at “Documentary Film and Social Change.” The series concludes Nov. 5 with “Representation in Media,” a look at the biases that creep into film portrayals of people from certain communities, the importance of balanced representation and the need to challenge stereotypes and eliminate bias.

Roger Ebert’s Film Festival is an annual event celebrating films that haven’t received the recognition they deserved during their original runs and remembering the life and work of Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic, Roger Ebert.

 

 

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.

 

Inaugural class of MFA students graduate from Grady College

The final chapter was written August 5 as the inaugural class of MFA students at Grady College was recognized in convocation ceremonies.

The fourteen graduating students completed two years of the new narrative media writing program in a low-residency format. Five students graduated from the screenwriting track and nine students graduated from the narrative non-fiction writing track.

“It’s amazing to see the fruits of our effort that began in 2009 in an idea that Valerie Boyd presented me,” said Jeff Springston, associate dean of graduate studies and research. “Nate Kohn quickly added to that idea, and though the road of establishing the degree was not always easy, the results have been spectacular.”

There was a lot of love and affection shown for the program’s directors and mentors. The directors included Valerie Boyd, who led the narrative non-fiction program, and Nate Kohn, who directed the screenwriting track.

“Valerie, when you look out at all of us, I hope you know that your legacy is and will always be strong,” said graduate student Rosalind Bentley at the convocation.

Pete Stone, who graduated from the screenwriting program, expressed appreciation on behalf of the students in his track.  “This is our passion,” Stone said. “This is what wakes us up and gets us through everything else we do. This is why we are here and to find that is just great. I am so happy to find a program that allows that, and I really do thank Dr. Kohn for allowing that to happen.”

MFA graduates from the narrative non-fiction program show appreciation to their families for their support.

Stone and Bentley also praised the vital role of the mentors, the community bond formed among the students and the networking that was created from the special speakers who were invited to speak during the program.

The convocation program included insights from keynote speakers Thomas French, who is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and Jeffrey Stepakoff, a screenwriter and executive director of the Georgia Film Academy.

French encouraged the students to accept the humbling task of chronicling stories. Stepakoff spoke of the burgeoning film and television market in Georgia and his desire to foster writer’s groups in the state that would in turn keep graduates from the MFA program in the state of Georgia.

Benjamin Bolger, another graduate of the screenwriting track added, “Georgia and Atlanta are exciting places for people who want to be in the entertainment and movie business. I can’t think of a better program that is situated to accelerate people’s careers in a very focused direction.”

A clear majority of the students and instructors commented about how the program delivered more than they expected.

“These are stories the world needs to hear,” commented Kohn as he recognized the graduates. “They have exceeded my expectations in every way.”

MFA graduate Benjamin Bolger (right) is congratulated by his mentor, Ramin Serry.

Boyd spoke of the “great enthusiasm, great respect and great love” she had for each of her graduates who filled her with “enormous pride and unbridled joy.”

For narrative non-fiction graduate Andre Gallant, the biggest reward of the MFA program was an in-depth study of the field he loves. “I hoped,

and I think everybody hopes, that the program helps them establish a writing life, a writing practice. It’s kind of hard in our busy lives to treat writing not just as a job but as an art form, as a craft, something we work at and improve. This gives us the first steps to do that.”

Bolger, who has a doctorate from Harvard University and studied at the University of Oxford in Cambridge, concluded that the MFA program compares with other programs he has experienced. “I can honestly say that the University of Georgia, and this program in particular, was really a world-class experience that rivals some of the best competitors that exist. I’m delighted that I was able to participate in this great program.”

[flickr_set id=”72157687313876145″]

Grady’s Nate Kohn completes 19th year directing Roger Ebert’s Festival

Roger Ebert’s Film Festival, named after renowned film critic Roger Ebert, wrapped up its 19th season this past weekend.

At the helm this year and for the past 18 years was Grady College’s Nate Kohn, associate director of the Peabody Awards and EMST professor. In addition to serving as the director of the Ebert festival, Kohn helped start the festival in 1999.

The festival, also known as Ebertfest, was created to focus on films that the Chicago Sun-Times film critic believed were overlooked by audiences, distributors and critics.

“The festival was originally called Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival,” Kohn said. “We also viewed it as Roger’s gift to his hometown.”

The festival is held in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, at the University of Illinois. Ebert grew up in Urbana, as did Kohn. Both attended Urbana High School. Until his death in 2013, Ebert chose all the films with the help of his wife, Chaz Ebert, and Kohn. Now Chaz Ebert and Kohn select the films based on criteria established by Roger Ebert.

In 2014, Chaz Ebert was a guest at Grady College for a screening of the film “Life Itself,” Steve James’ award-winning documentary on the life of Roger Ebert.

There is a mixture of old and new films at the festival. “It’s a chance to showcase films that deserve a second look or that got no look in the first place,” Kohn said.

This year’s festival included some high-profile guests including Academy Award-nominated French actress Isabelle Huppert and iconic TV show creator Norman Lear, who was just named an upcoming recipient of an Peabody Individual Award. Films screened this year at Ebertfest included Huppert’s “Elle,” Lear’s autobiography “Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You,” Milos Forman’s “Hair,” and Chan-wook Park’s “The Handmaiden.”