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

“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.


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.”