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The film critic Roger Ebert had been AWOL from the Sundance Film Festival for several years after his cancer scare and emergency mouth operation — and when he returned in 2010, he joked that the festival was dedicated to him.

The festival's theme that year played off words like Revolt, Renew and Rebel. All the words started with "RE," Ebert's initials.

Next June 5, the Sundance Institute will official honoring Ebert, giving him the Vanguard Leadership Award at the "Celebrate Sundance Institute" benefit in Los Angeles.

Sundance founder Robert Redford praised Ebert for his longtime support of "freedom of artistic expression."

"When I started Sundance in 1980, and when few would support us, Roger was there," Redford said in a statement Thursday. "This was one of the ways he communicated his forward-thinking outlook. He was one of the first to support our artists. His influence and reach is as meaningful as his personal passion for cinema, and he certainly deserves this award."

"Roger Ebert's impact on film culture cannot be understated," added Keri Putnam, Sundance's executive director. "For 45 years he has championed great movies from a broad range of artists and used his platform to encourage audiences to explore challenging and unexpected films, including many that premiered at our Sundance Film Festival."

Among the movies that Ebert has championed as they came through Sundance are "Man Push Cart," "Come Early Morning," "Longtime Companion," "Metropolitan," "The Brothers McMullen," "Crumb," "Picture Bride," "American Movie" and "The War Zone."

Ebert is the second person to receive the Vanguard Leadership Award. The first, presented earlier this year, went to George Gund, the philanthropist and institute trustee.

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