CHAMPAIGN — "The festival was dedicated to Scott Wilson in memoriam," Ebertfest host Chaz Ebert said before the festival's showing of "Almost Famous" on Saturday.
"But I also like to celebrate people when they are alive. You know, there's this saying about bringing flowers to the funeral. I like to give people flowers when they're alive as well."
Saturday was the fourth and final day of the 21st Roger Ebert's Film Festival at the Virginia Theatre in Champaign. And as Chaz Ebert promised, the fest's finale was an upbeat tribute to Richard Roeper, the very much alive Chicago Sun-Times film critic and longtime co-host of "At the Movies" alongside Roger Ebert, whose honor it was to select and introduce — as well as discuss and take questions about afterward — the festival's last two films on Saturday: "Almost Famous" and "Sideways."
But before that? Let's just say Ebertfest has been something of an emotional roller-coaster this year for its co-founder and reigning hostess.
She started Day 4 clapping and dancing behind the podium to the music of Barry White, "You're The First, The Last, My Everything," while introducing the Virginia Theatre stage crew, then crowing, "That's how I feel this morning!"
Two films later — the documentaries "Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise," which had co-director Rita Coburn in attendance, and director Morgan Neville's "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" — Chaz Ebert bravely came onstage, alongside festival director Nate Kohn, sobbing heavily.
"I'm sorry," she explained, referring to the biographical film about pioneering children's television host Fred Rogers. "Roger and I always said that what makes us cry is not sadness, but goodness."
She then presented Neville with the festival's third-ever humanitarian award for making the film.
"We need more Fred Rogers in this world," said Neville in introducing it. "I just felt a great responsibility to not mess it up."
"I think you got it right," replied Chaz Ebert, who admitted earlier she had been "furious" that the film didn't earn an Academy Award nomination.
Outside the theater afterward, still visibly catching her breath, she acknowledged, "It's been very emotional."
But that doesn't appear to be slowing her down in the least either, as she had only a minute or so for questions between movies before excusing herself and hurrying back inside and onstage to introduce Roeper and the day's next film in a determined effort to keep the festival's packed film lineup on schedule.
And it wasn't over yet. Saturday's final film, "Sideways," was to be followed by a Skype interview between Roeper onstage and actress Virginia Madsen on location in North Carolina.