By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood April 3, 2009 at 5:42AM
After a video montage in which directors Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, and Oliver Stone paid tribute to Roger Ebert, Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker presented ShoWest's Career Achievement in Film Journalism Award to the Pulitzer-Prize winning critic of the Chicago Sun-Times. "Roger Ebert is the most popular, most respected, most honored, and most eclectic film critic in American history," Barker said, citing Ebert as "one of the few saviors of independent film--films of all shapes and sizes--American independent features, foreign films, documentaries, and animated films. Ask any independent filmmakers who Roger has championed. Errol Morris will tell you Roger gave him his career. Louis Malle used to tell everyone Roger Ebert saved My Dinner With Andre and Atlantic City from disaster, Robert Altman the same with several of his films. Pan's Labyrinth, Memento, Monster, Hoop Dreams, Roger and Me--we would not know these movies in the way we know them if it were not for Roger Ebert. This is fact."
Most journalists are in awe of Ebert's prolific output. But since he lost the ability to speak due to surgery for throat cancer, he has increased his writing, as if to compensate. And it has never been better. At ShoWest, Ebert's wife Chaz read his acceptance speech as he stood next to her. He mentioned his early and recent discoveries of directors Martin Scorsese, Mike Leigh and Ramin Bahrani. And he begged the exhibitors to please not only pay attention to number one b.o. performers but dedicate a screen or two to the independents as well. "Let's ask ourselves," he said, "how many of us would choose Fast & Furious for a night out at the movies over other indie films? They motivate adults to attend movies." He wound up: "At times like these, we all need to see a good movie."
[Photo: Ethan Miller, Getty Images North America]