The cinephile community suffered a terrible loss in the spring of this year when famed critic Roger Ebert passed away. But a movie theater near his hometown in Illinois is looking to pay tribute to this giant in film criticism by creating a permanent memorial in his honor. The News Gazette (via THR) reports the town of Champaign--which is a stone's throw from his hometown of Urbana--is commissioning a life-sized bronze statue of Ebert that shows him with his trademark thumbs up. Better still, there will be an empty seat on either side of him, presumably so admirers can cozy up and get a snapshot next to this long-loved critic and TV personality.

The Champaign-Urbana community is currently raising funds for the statue's construction, an effort headed by husband and wife team Scott and Donna Anderson, the latter of whom used to work as a travel agent for Ebertfest. The sculpture is to be built by Bloomington-Normal artist Rick Harney, and is projected to cost $122,500. (This price encompasses not only materials and construction, but also the cost of fundraising itself, donor plaques, installation, lighting, maintenance, insurance and other contingencies.) If fundraising goes well, the statue could be put in place outside the Virginia Theatre in Champaign in time for Ebertfest 2014, which would be next April. It would be a fitting tribute to the man who taught so many to love movies. And if you're debating about chipping in, now's the time.

The Ebert Foundation--headed by the Pulitzer Prize winner's wife of more than 20 years--is pledging to match donations up to $25,000 made this month. At this point, the fundraising team estimates about 20% of the total has been collected. If the statue fundraisers get the $25k needed to collect the Ebert Foundation pledge, they'll bump that up to 60% of their goal by the end of this year. To help incentivize big donations, donors are eligible for showy perks, like a mention at the ceremony, a small bronze maquette of the sculpture, or their own name engraved on the actual statue. These perks cost between $5,000-$25,000 dollars. But donations as low as $1 are gladly being accepted as well.

Ebert statue model

You can learn more about this project and donate here. Or if you prefer the snail mail route, you can send tax-deductible donations directly to the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois, 307 W. University Ave., Champaign, IL 61820. Jus put "Ebert Sculpture" on the memo line. Any money earned beyond the fundraising goal will be awarded to the Roger Ebert Film Center at the UI, Ebertfest and the Virginia Theatre, as deteremined by Chaz Ebert.
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