College of Media presents virtual Ebert Symposium Series this fall

Ebert Symposium Series

The 2020 Chaz & Roger Ebert Symposium will be presented as a virtual series this fall, bringing together filmmakers and scholars to discuss a variety of issues relevant to the media industry.

The series, which is free and open to the public, premiered on October 8 with a panel moderated by Ebertfest co-founder Chaz Ebert and Ebertfest director Nate Kohn (watch recording below). Each event will be broadcast on both the Ebertfest YouTube channel and Facebook page at 5 p.m. CT on their respective dates. See details about each panel below; more information will be added as guests are confirmed. To submit discussion questions to the panelists, please fill out this form in advance of each event.



Representation in Media
This panel will examine how television, film, and other media represent and portray certain types of people or communities. College of Media faculty member Angharad Valdivia, research professor of media and cinema studies, will lead a discussion of the importance of balanced representation, the need to challenge stereotypes, and show how the media industry has progressed to try to eliminate unconditional bias. Panelists include Christine Simmons, COO of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; and three UIUC alumni including Keri Carpenter (BS ’08, MS ’09, journalism), TV producer and writer; Samantha Chatman (BS ’14, journalism), ABC 7 Chicago reporter; and Troy Pryor (BA ’07, LAS), producer and actor.

Watch the recording:


Angharad Valdivia is a research professor of media and cinema studies within the College of Media.

Valdivia recently published The Gender of Latinidad: Uses and Abuses of Hybridity. She received the 2020 Distinguished Scholar Award from the Critical Cultural Studies Division of the National Communication Association and was elected a 2020 fellow in the International Communication Association, one of the highest honors in the broad field of communication studies.


Christine Simmons was named to the position of Chief Operating Officer at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2019. Simmons is responsible for the day-to-day management and enhancement of the Academy’s internal organization and infrastructure, focusing on a number of key initiatives including the organization’s strategic and 5-year business plans, career progression realignment, and more. Simmons will also be leading the first ever Office of Representation, Inclusion and Equity and continues to oversee the Academy Foundation, comprised of the Margaret Herrick Library, Academy Film Archive, its educational programs, and Science and Technology Council. She will join leadership in collaborative efforts to fulfill and further the Academy mission, that is to recognize and uphold excellence in the motion picture arts and sciences, inspire imagination, and connect the world through the medium of motion pictures. 


Keri Carpenter (BS ’08, MS ’09, journalism), raised by The Windy City and refined by the West Coast, is a trained journalist-turned-TV producer/writer. After graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a master’s degree in broadcast journalism, Keri set out for Los Angeles to continue, expand, and explore her passion for storytelling. 

From landing a job as an executive assistant to Tyra Banks to later producing several seasons of the hit show America’s Next Top Model, E! News, and for networks like ABC, VH1, Warner Bros., The CW, and Lifetime, Keri believes there is always more to learn, change, reveal, and pursue. In the digital space, Keri has pioneered and created diverse content for brands like La Mer and Target, creative producing for Target and YouTube’s popular comedy series collaboration “Let’s Target” (featuring Tiffany Haddish, Angela Kinsey, and Sean Evans) and wrote Target's first Livestream show, hosted by Tyra Banks and Isaac Mizrahi during New York Fashion Week. Currently, Keri is focusing on developing several social justice passion projects that will film in two places that have both changed and taught her life's most invaluable lessons: Chicago and Los Angeles.  


Samantha Chatman (BS ’14, journalism) is an Emmy Award-winning journalist who currently serves as a consumer investigative reporter for ABC 7 Chicago for the weekday morning newscasts.


Troy Pryor (BA ’07, LAS) is a producer, actor, and public speaker. His stage, on-camera, and voice-over work has led to award-winning content including collaborations with ABC, HGTV, Warner Brothers Entertainment, DIY Network, TV One, and Aspire TV. A Chicago native, Troy is an advocate for connecting local, undiscovered diverse talent to mainstream content and media platforms through his production network, Creative Cypher. His collaborations with Oscar- and Grammy-winning artists, and their foundations, include Che “Ryhmefest” Smith, Kanye West’s Donda’s House organization, and Common’s Common Ground Foundation. These partnerships have enabled Troy to mentor hundreds of up-and-coming artists and empower production deals that build Chicago’s artistic community. 

As a former collegiate athlete, Troy was a record-breaking powerlifter and linebacker for the University of Illinois. The youngest person ever to be elected to Chicago’s Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) Board of Directors, his creative approach to content and partnerships have helped cement his role as an influencer and taste maker with brands like TED Talks, Chicago Ideas, Soho House, Next Showcase USA, Black Ensemble Theater, and as a mentor for President Barack Obama’s White House project, A Call to Arts. Pryor has systematically built a media brand that aggregates over 2,000 artists, connecting them to the resources and tools that enable new content production for major brands. 

View University of Illinois News Bureau press release.


Documentary Film and Social Change
The panel will examine documentary film including features, community engaged projects, and cell-phone footage as political discourse directed towards social change. They will discuss documentary as a means to examine public life and engage public participation in social issues. College of Media faculty members Jay Rosenstein, professor of media and cinema studies; Alison Davis, lecturer in journalism; and Angela Aguayo, associate professor of media and cinema studies, will head a panel with documentary filmmakers Kirby Dick, Sacha Jenkins, and Dawn Porter (see bios below).

Watch the recording:

Angela Aguayo

Angela Aguayo is an associate professor of media and cinema studies within the College of Media.

Aguayo recently published Documentary Resistance: Social Change and Participatory Media (Oxford University Press), which explores a documentary’s capacity for social change. She also has an autobiographical documentary, The Ritual, in the works, which focuses on how she and her friends navigate through womanhood in a non-traditional way. She has also produced the oral history project Rural Civil Rights Project and established the summer camp Girls Make Movies. 

Alison Davis

Alison Davis is a lecturer in journalism within the College of Media. She has been producing national documentaries for over two decades. Her programs have received numerous awards including seven regional Emmy Awards and over 20 Emmy nominations.

Davis produced documentaries for the Big Ten Network. Before that she worked at WILL-TV (PBS) where she was the longtime producer and host of Prairie Fire, a cultural magazine series about the people and places of central Illinois.

Jay Rosenstein

Jay Rosenstein is a Center for Advanced Study professor of media and cinema studies within the College of Media. He is a Peabody and Emmy Award-winning independent documentary writer, producer, director, and editor whose documentaries have been seen on the national PBS series P.O.V., the national PBS series Independent Lens, the Independent Film Channel, and the Maori Channel of New Zealand, as well as at film festivals worldwide including the Sundance Film Festival. 

Rosenstein is a recipient of a 2010 Peabody Award for his documentary The Lord is Not On Trial Here Today. His documentary The Lord Is Not On Trial Here Today (2010), about the landmark First Amendment case that started the separation of church and state in public schools, won the Silver Gavel Award from the American Bar Association as the best television program in 2010 for fostering the American public’s understanding of the law. The documentary also received two Emmy awards. His best-known documentary, the groundbreaking In Whose Honor? American Indian Mascots in Sports (1997), has directly led to the elimination of American Indian mascots, nicknames, and logos at schools at every level nationwide, as well as the adoption of policies similar to the NCAA’s by school boards in several states. 

Kirby Dick

Kirby Dick is a two-time Emmy award-winning and two-time Academy award-nominated filmmaker behind the most groundbreaking investigatory documentaries today with his creative partner Amy Ziering. 

Their Oscar-nominated film, THE INVISIBLE WAR, broke the story of the epidemic of rape in the U.S. military and led to five congressional hearings and the passing of 35 reforms through Congress. Their follow-up film, THE HUNTING GROUND, about campus sexual assault, ignited a national discussion and led to sweeping policy changes at hundreds of schools. Their next film, THE BLEEDING EDGE, about the fast-growing medical device industry's corruption and malfeasance, has already compelled industry giant Bayer to remove one harmful device from the market, and is catalyzing a worldwide debate about regulation and patient safety. Currently their latest critically-acclaimed film, ON THE RECORD, now streaming on HBO Max, follows a music executive as she grapples with abuse she faced from men in her industry and her decision to become one of the first women of color to come forward as part of the #MeToo movement. Past films of Dick’s include TWIST OF FAITH, THIS FILM IS NOT YET RARED, SICK, and OUTRAGE.

Throughout their filmography, notable accolades they have amassed include: two Oscar nominations, two Emmy awards, a Peabody, an Independent Spirit Award, a duPont-Columbia Award, the Nestor Almendros Prize for Courage and Filmmaking, an Upton Sinclair Award, the Ridenhour Documentary Film Prize, and the George Polk Award.

Sacha Jenkins

Sacha Jenkins, a native New Yorker, directed Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men—a four-part doc series that spans 25 years of the seminal group’s career and unpacks all of the obstacles that the 10 black men in the group had to leap over during their rise. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was released on Showtime in 2019. At Sundance Jenkins also premiered Railroad Ties—a short film that tackles the intersection between the Underground Railroad movement that liberated African Americans during slavery and latter day descendants on a mission to better understand who cane before them. 

Jenkins’ first feature-length documentary, Fresh Dressed  premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews. Jenkins’ next film, Burn Motherfucker, Burn!—about the so-called Los Angeles "riots" of 1992 and the generations of African Americans who have been abused by LAPD and its historically corrupt system of policing—debuted on Showtime in 2017. His documentary Word Is Bond—about the artful crafting of hip hop lyrics—premiered at the Urban World Film Festival and aired on Showtime in 2018. Jenkins served as executive producer on the 2018 Netflix series Rapture, for which he directed the episode about Nas and Dave East.

Jenkins has built his strong reputation as a creative working as a television producer, via shows like Cartoon Network’s The Boondocks (creative consultant/writer), VH1’s The White Rapper Show (executive producer), and Miss Rap Supreme. Jenkins also co-founded the music journal ego trip and Beat Down (the first-ever hip-hop newspaper), and spent several years at Vibe magazine, serving as both staff writer and music editor. He attended the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University (The National Arts Journalism Program) on a fellowship.

Dawn Porter

Dawn Porter is an award-winning documentary filmmaker whose work has appeared on HBO, PBS, Discovery, and Netflix, among others. She is currently directing and executive producing an Apple TV multi-part documentary series with Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry, which focuses on both mental illness and mental well-being.  

Other current projects include the documentary Vernon Jordan: Make It Plain, which explores Jordan’s rise from the segregated South to become one of the most influential African American thought leaders in America; John Lewis: Good Trouble for CNN Films, which explores late Congressman John Lewis’ pivotal role in the Civil Rights movement and decades of political and social activism on important issues including voting rights, immigration laws, and much more; and The Way I See It, about photojournalist Pete Souza, who served as Chief Official White House photographer for President Barack Obama and previously as an Official White House photographer for President Ronald Reagan.

Porter directed and produced the acclaimed four-hour Netflix original series Bobby Kennedy for President (2018) and premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. A two-time Sundance festival director, her film Trapped, which explored laws regulating abortion clinics in the South, won the special jury social-impact prize at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, in addition to a Peabody and numerous other awards. Her 2013 documentary Gideon's Army premiered on HBO and won best editing at Sundance and is part of the U.S. Department of State’s American Film Showcase. She also directed and produced Spies of Mississippi, a critically-acclaimed historical documentary that was part of the Independent Lens series on PBS, as well as Rise: The Promise of My Brother’s Keeper, a film for The Discovery Channel chronicling President Obama’s program to help young men of color succeed. Porter has been commissioned to create films for the Center for Investigative Reporting, Time and Essence Magazines, The New York Times Op Docs, and Amazon. 

View University of Illinois News Bureau press release.


The Movie Industry in a Time of Change
The panel will examine the film industry in a time of great change, from the global pandemic wrought by COVID-19 to the protests following the death of George Floyd and concomitant efforts to dismantle systemic racism in the United States.

Moderated by Chaz Ebert and Nate Kohn, the filmmaker panel will examine how movies get made, who gets to make them, and how movies get to be seen and exhibited in light of recent challenges. Panelists include Michael Barker, co-president and co-founder of Sony Pictures Classics; Neal Block, head of distribution and marketing for Magnolia Pictures; filmmaker Melissa Haizlip; Darrien Michele Gipson, executive director of SAGindie; filmmaker Malcolm D. Lee; filmmaker Mary Mazzio; Nina Shaw, founding partner in the entertainment law firm of Del Shaw Moonves Tanaka Finkelstein & Lezcano; and filmmaker Christine Swanson.

Watch the recording:

Chaz Ebert

Chaz Ebert is the CEO of Ebert Digital LLC, which publishes the movie review site, She also produces television and movies at Ebert Productions, and heads the Ebertfest Film Festival now in its 22nd year, where she gives the Ebert Humanitarian Award to filmmakers who exhibit an unusually compassionate view of the world. Her civic interests include programs to help break the glass ceiling for women and people of color, and to provide education and arts for women, children and families. Through the Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation she provides grants to support projects with strong social justice themes and mentors emerging writers, filmmakers, and technologists with a global view toward encouraging empathy, kindness, compassion and forgiveness. 

Nate Kohn

Dr. Nate Kohn is professor at the University of Georgia, Associate Director of the George Foster Peabody Awards, festival director of Roger Ebert's Film Festival, director of the University of Georgia MFA program in screenwriting and award-winning producer. Dr. Kohn produced Zulu Dawn starring Burt Lancaster and Peter O’Toole; the independent feature Somebodies (2006); Rain, the Bahamas’ first indigenous feature (2007); Bottleworld (2010); he was Executive Producer on the BET television series Somebodies (2008); he was Producer on the feature length documentary Bayou Maharajah (2013); he produced the Emmy Award-winning short documentary Ebertfest 2012; and he was Executive Producer on The 73rd, 74th and 75th Annual Peabody Awards Specials for PivotTV/Participant Media (2014, 2015 and 2016). He has served on juries and mentored screenwriters at the Atlanta, Hawaii, Kerala, and Bahamas International Film Festivals. He is the author of numerous scholarly articles and of the book Pursuing Hollywood: Seduction, Obsession, Dread (AltaMira Press, 2006).

Michael Barker

Michael Barker, Co-President and Co-Founder of Sony Pictures Classics, has (with Tom Bernard) distributed, and often produced, some of the finest independent movies over the past 30 years. Previously he was an executive at United Artists (1980-1983) and went on to co-found Orion Classics (1983-1991) and Sony Pictures Classics. Barker’s films have received 159 Academy Award nominations and 36 wins, including five for Best Documentary Feature and 12 for Best Foreign Language Film and 23 Golden Globe Awards. Barker has collaborated with some of the world’s finest filmmakers including Pedro Almodovar, Mike Leigh, Louis Malle and Zhang Yimou, all of whom he’s worked with on multiple occasions. In additional to his award-winning feature releases, he and his colleagues have also restored and theatrically reissued some of the great films of the past. In recognition of his work, Barker has received many honors and awards. Most recently, he and Bernard were awarded the esteemed French Legion of Honor in acknowledgment for their contributions to French culture over the past 30 years.

Neal Block

Neal Block is Head of Distribution and Marketing for Magnolia Pictures. Over his 15-year tenure at the company, Block has overseen the releases of RBG, I Am Not Your Negro, John Lewis: Good Trouble, and many others. Prior to Magnolia, Block worked for Samuel Goldwyn Films and Palm Pictures.

Melissa Haizlip

Melissa Haizlip’s work responds to pressing social issues at the intersection of racial justice, social  justice, activism, and representation. Female transformation and empowerment  are at the core of all of her ideas, with the goal being to advocate and amplify the  voices of women and people of color. Melissa’s feature documentary, Mr. SOUL!, has been awarded a finalist for the 2019 inaugural Library of Congress Lavine /  Ken Burns Prize for Film. The film won Best Music  Documentary at the 2018 International Documentary Association Awards. Mr. SOUL! premiered at Tribeca and screened at 50 festivals, receiving 16 Jury and  Audience Awards for Best Documentary, and the 2019 FOCAL Award for Best  Use of Archival Footage in an Entertainment Production. Melissa directed and  produced Contact High: A Visual History of Hip Hop and produced You’re Dead To Me (2013) directed by Wu Tsang, winner of Best Short at the 2014 Imagen Awards, and screened at  over 50 festivals and museums. Melissa has been  awarded grants from the Ford Foundation JustFilms, National Endowment for the  Humanities, International Documentary Association, National Endowment for the  Arts, Black Public Media, Firelight Media, ITVS, Awesome Without Borders, and  Puffin Foundation. Melissa is currently producing a  docuseries on women in hip-hop. 

Darrien Michele Gipson

Darrien Michele Gipson is the Executive Director of SAGindie. Darrien leads a team that is responsible for independent filmmaker outreach and specializes in teaching low budget production focusing on the process for hiring professional actors via SAG-AFTRA’s low budget contracts.  She is a frequent moderator and speaker on panels and production workshops, negotiates sponsorship agreements with film festivals around the country, spearheads the annual national advertising campaigns, oversees, and throws several epic filmmaker parties.

Malcolm D. Lee

Malcolm D. Lee is an American director, producer, and screenwriter. He is known for directing numerous comedies, including The Best Man, Undercover Brother, Roll Bounce, Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, Soul Men, Scary Movie 5, The Best Man Holiday, Girls Trip, and Night School. He earned Best Director and Screenplay prizes at the Black Reel Awards for his debut feature, The Best Man, which starred Taye Diggs, Nia Long, Morris Chestnut, and Terrence Howard. Lee is currently in post-production on Space Jam: A New Legacy, starring LeBron James.

Mary Mazzio

Mary Mazzio, an award-winning documentary film director, Olympic athlete, and former law firm partner, is Founder and CEO of 50 Eggs, Inc., an independent film production company dedicated to making socially impactful films. Mary wrote, directed, and produced the highly-acclaimed films Underwater Dreams, TEN9EIGHT, The Apple Pushers, A Hero for Daisy, Contrarian, Apple Pie, and Lemonade Stories. Her newest documentary films include, I AM JANE DOE (2017), narrated by Academy Award nominee, Jessica Chastain, and, A Most Beautiful Thing (2020). Mary Mazzio’s films have had large cultural impacts and the movie, I AM JANE DOE catalyzed (on a bipartisan basis) legislation signed by the President in 2018.

Nina Shaw

Nina Shaw is a founding partner in the entertainment law firm of Del Shaw Moonves Tanaka Finkelstein & Lezcano. Her practice is in the television, motion picture, and live stage area. Among her clients are successful and award winning actors, writers, producers and directors as well as entrepreneurs and entertainment executives. Nina is a Variety Dealmaker Impact honoree and has been named repeatedly to The Hollywood Reporter’s “Women in Entertainment Power 100” list. She is a recipient of the WIF Crystal Award, and in 2013 was named Entertainment Lawyer of the Year by the Beverly Hills Bar Association. Most recently, she was honored by Essence Magazine with its 2016 Black Women in Hollywood Power Award, and also in 2016 Nina was profiled in The New York Times: “She’s the Hollywood Power Behind Those Seeking a Voice.” In 2019 Nina received Columbia Law School’s prestigious Medal for Excellence Award, the Athena Film Festival Athena Award and the NAACP LDF National Equal Justice Award. Nina is among the founding organizers of Time’s Up.

Christine Swanson

Christine Swanson has written and/or directed numerous award- winning feature films, television episodes, commercials and short films in her career. A Detroit native, visionary storyteller and multiple award-winning filmmaker, CNN identified Christine as one of the most promising filmmakers to emerge from NYU’s graduate film program since Martin Scorsese, Ang Lee, Oliver Stone, and Spike Lee (Christine’s NYU directing teacher). In 2015, Christine received an NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding Directing in a Television Motion Picture for For the Love of Ruth. Christine also directed three original cable movie premieres for TV One entitled, To Hell and Back (starring Ernie Hudson and Vanessa Bell Calloway), For the Love of Ruth (starring Denise Boutte, Loretta Devine, Gary Dourdan, and James Pickens, Jr.) and Love Under New Management, The Miki Howard Story (starring Teyonah Parris, Darius McCrary, and Gary Dourdan) which broke network ratings as the most watched original movie in network history. Recently, Christine directed episodes of Chicago PD and FBI for Dick Wolf Films. Her episode of Chicago PD was rated the Best Episode of Season 6. Christine also recently directed the award-winning, ratings and records breaking Clark Sisters: The First Ladies of Gospel for A&E Networks.


The Ebert Symposium, an annual event that began in 2018 and named in part for the late film critic Roger Ebert, is a collaboration between the College of Media and the Roger Ebert Center. Roger Ebert, who died in 2013, was an Urbana native, journalism alumnus, Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, and founder of His namesake film festival, known as Ebertfest, is scheduled to return to Champaign-Urbana in September 2021.

View University of Illinois News Bureau press release.