Roger Ebert in Cannes: Chaz carries the torch

05:00 AM, May 17, 2013

This June 14, 2010 file photo shows film critic Roger Ebert, left, alongside wife Chaz Hammelsmith, accepting the "Person of the Year" Award at the 14th Annual Webby Awards in New York. Charles Sykes AP/


Written By by Bryan Alexander, USA TODAY

Roger Ebert is not at the Cannes Film Festival this year.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning film reviewer for the Chicago Sun-Times, who was a staple at the international festival in the South of France, died last month after a prolonged bout with cancer.

But Chaz Ebert, his wife of more than 20 years, is in Cannes continuing the tradition.

Roger covered this film festival for more than 30 years,” Chaz Ebert says, having lunch near the famous Cannes shoreline. “Everywhere I go people tell me stories about Roger being here. Everything reminds me of him here.”

Chaz, whose voice cracks with emotion throughout the discussion of her late husband, says she had canceled Cannes reservations when Roger had not seemed well early in 2013. But, thinking the condition would pass, Roger ordered his secretary to re-book the flights and hotel.

It’s emotional to be here, but it’s very comforting,” says Chaz. “It feels like this is exactly where I should be at this time. He was the one that encouraged—almost forced—me to come here.”

After her husband died, Chaz says she did make an early festival stop. Organizers continued with the 15th Annual Roger Ebert Film Festival at the University of Illinois in April. Roger had pre-programmed the festival with a number of movies, many of which turned out to deal with death.

For example, there was one of his favorite films, 1958’s The Ballad of Narayama, about a man going to see the gods at age 70.

And of course Roger passed away at age 70,” says Chaz. “Really every movie we watched for the first few days we were in tears because it seemed like Roger knew somehow.”

In Cannes, Chaz relishes the happy memories. Even those that didn’t seem happy at the time. She remembers the 2003 incident between Roger and Vincent Gallo, creator of The Brown Bunny. Roger walked out of the Cannes competition screening of the film saying it was “an outrage” that the movie was accepted.

His outrage came from such an honest place,” says Chaz. “But it became an international incident.”

The war of words led to Gallo putting a hex on Ebert. But Chaz says the two patched things up later. Gallo re-edited the film and brought it to Chicago to show Ebert.

Afterwards, they shook hands and made friends,” says Chaz. “And there was no hex or whatever.”

This week in Cannes, Chaz is leading a team of three to cover the festival for RogerEbert.com. But it’s an emotional journey.

I have the team together, we’re going to continue,” says Chaz, pausing. “I feel his presence everywhere here.”