Introducing Ebertfest 25’s Film Critics and Scholars

For the past twenty-five years, Chaz Ebert and the College of Media at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have hosted the Ebertfest Film Festival at the Virginia Theatre in Champaign, Illinois. Roger Ebert was the first Film Critic to win a Pulitzer Prize for film criticism. He held his colleagues in esteem. Since his death, Chaz Ebert and Festival Director Nate Kohn have continued a tradition of inviting acclaimed film critics and scholars to participate at Ebertfest. This year’s festival is dedicated to the memory of Roger Ebert and David Bordwell. 

Below, in alphabetical order (following the names of Nate Kohn and Chaz Ebert), is a list of some of the film critics and scholars who are attending as Presenters: 


Dr. Nathaniel (“Nate”) Kohn is professor in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, festival director of Roger Ebert’s Film Festival, director of the University of Georgia MFA program in screenwriting, director of the University of Georgia Cannes Film Festival and Cannes Lions Study Abroad Programs, and an award-winning producer. 

Dr. Kohn produced Zulu Dawn starring Burt Lancaster and Peter O’Toole; the independent feature Somebodies, which premiered at Sundance (2006); Rain, the Bahamas’ first indigenous feature which premiered at Toronto (2007) and on Showtime (2010); the feature film Bottleworld (2010); the feature-length documentary Bayou Maharajah which premiered at SXSW (2013); he was Executive Producer on the BET television series Somebodies (2008); 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, Hot Springs 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). And he is a producer on the independent feature film Nobody Wants To Be Here, Nobody Wants To Leave currently in production in Georgia and France.


Chaz Ebert is the Co-founder, Producerand Host of Ebertfest. Please enjoy this interview with Chaz previewing the 25th anniversary of Ebertfest, courtesy of Prairie Fire. 


Brenda Butler’s professional journalism career spans from the historic Johnson Publishing’s Jet Magazine to the Chicago Tribune, holding positions as a reporter, copy editor, section editor, newsroom manager, and senior features editor. 

As a witness to and participant in the sectionalizing of American newspapers in the 1990s, she held numerous editing positions at the Tribune, becoming the first African American at the paper to hold the position of associate managing editor, where she was involved in the conception and development of award-winning newspaper sections and magazines, and co-managed a staff of more than 100 reporters, editors, and support staff.

While at the Tribune, she gained experience in TV broadcasting when she wrote, produced, and moderated a 13-week series for Chicago cable TV titled “Playback: Views from an African American Perspective.” 

As an educator, she was the executive director of Columbia Links, a journalism, news literacy, and leadership development program for underserved youth in Chicago public high schools, which was then housed at Columbia College Chicago.

Thanks to a three-year grant from the Ebert Foundation, her program graduated the first set of high school Ebert Fellows, who learned how to see and critique films. The stellar work of these teens was subsequently published on 

Butler served many years as a board member for the National Association of Black Journalists-Chicago Chapter, including a three-term presidency. Under her leadership, the organization was named the national NABJ Chapter of the Year, another first. 

Butler earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature and creative writing from Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., and graduated from the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education management program at Kellogg’s Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill. 

She is an avid and lifelong film lover, bicyclist, traveler, and theatergoer. 


Nell Minow is honored to be the Contributing Editor at She also writes reviews at and appears on the radio each week to talk about new releases. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments. Her husband lets her have 20 movies on her all-time top 10 list, and in her spare time, she is a lawyer.


Michael Phillips is the film critic of the Chicago Tribune, appointed in 2006 after serving as the Tribune theater critic since 2002. Previously, he worked as a theater critic for the Los Angeles Times, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and the Dallas Times-Herald. He started out as arts editor and film critic for the Twin Cities weekly City Pages, while serving as film critic for Minnesota Public Radio. Since 2015, Phillips has been the advisor/mentor for the U of I College of Media Roger Ebert Fellowship and had the honor to co-host the nationally syndicated TV series “At the Movies,” first opposite Richard Roeper and, later, A.O. Scott. He also introduced 100+ films, from “Citizen Kane” to “Total Recall,” on the universal goodwill machine known as Turner Classic Movies.


Eric Pierson is a professor of Communication at the University of San Diego. He has been part of the faculty at USD for 24 years. As a scholar, he has written on a variety of topics that include film distribution in the 1970s, hate group recruiting via the Internet, film festival pedagogy, minority images in media, and television history. His work has appeared in both the scholarly and popular press.

His goal is to create scholarship that engages in conversations with those who are both inside and outside of the academy. He is drawn to conversations focusing on the ways in which the business practices of the film and television industries shape and present content connected to issues of race, class, gender, and marginalized groups.”

He can be seen in the documentaries Infiltrating Hollywood: The Rise and Fall of the Spook Who Sat by The Door and Cover Story: The Press Your Luck Scandal. In 2018, he collaborated with Academy Award winner Ruth E. Carter on Heroes and Sheroes: The Art and Influence of Ruth E. Carter in Black Cinema, a traveling exhibition of her costume designs; his film histories accompanied the designs.

Eric holds two degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a BFA in Fine Arts, and a Ph.D. from the Institute of Communications Research.


Carla Renata, aka The Curvy Critic, is thrilled to return to Ebertfest. Her reviews and/or op-eds have been published in Variety, The Wrap, The Cherry Picks,, Sotheby’s, and

She is a highly sought-after host/moderator who had the privilege to host an evening of The Black Experience on Film for Turner Classic Movies sponsored by AAFCA, as well as a frequent Guest Film Expert contributor for Fox 11 LA, Good Day LA, NBC News, REELZ Channel, The Stream Team, ITV, BBC, Live Now on Fox and Fox Soul’s The Black Report.

A graduate of Howard University, Carla is a proud member of AAFCA (African American Film Critics Association), (OAFFC), The Online Association of Female Film Critics, Tomato-meter approved critic on Rotten Tomatoes and (CCA) Critics Choice Association, where she serves as a member of their Board of Directors and Co-President of their Documentary Branch.

Her award-winning podcast, The Curvy Critic with Carla Renata, has garnered over 13 million views and streams live weekly. It features reviews, news, and interviews with talent in front and behind the camera.


Todd Rendleman is the Director of Film Studies and Professor of Communication at Seattle Pacific University where he teaches film art, history, and criticism. He is the author of Rule of Thumb: Ebert at the Movies (Bloomsbury, 2012) and an alumnus of the University of Illinois. He deposited his dissertation the morning of the first day of the first Ebertfest in April 1999. He lives in Seattle, Washington. 


Matt Singer is the editor and film critic of ScreenCrush and a member of the New York Film Critics Circle. He is also the author of several books, including Opposable Thumbs: How Siskel & Ebert Changed Movies Forever and Marvel’s Spider-Man: From Amazing to Spectacular. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and daughters.


Dana Stevens is the film critic at Slate and a co-host of the Slate Culture Gabfest, the magazine’s weekly culture podcast. She has also written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Atlantic and Bookforum. Her first book, Camera Man: Buster Keaton, the Dawn of Cinema and the Invention of the Twentieth Century, came out in 2022 and is now out in paperback.


Brian Tallerico, the Editor of, has covered television, film, video games, Blu-ray/DVD, interviews, and entertainment news for two decades online, on radio, and in print.

In addition, he is a TV/streaming writer for & The Playlist, and freelancer for multiple outlets, including The New York Times. He also serves as President of the Chicago Film Critics Association, co-produces the Chicago Critics Film Festival every May, and is a regular guest on radio stations and podcasts. 

You can follow him on Twitter @Brian_Tallerico. Read his answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here.