Film­maker hopes Roger Ebert doc gets thumbs up

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Caryn Rousseau

CHICAGO — When Life It­self de­buts Sun­day at the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val, it will be the first time Roger Ebert’s widow will see the full doc­u­men­tary about her late hus­band’s life. “I made a de­ci­sion that I wanted to see the movie at the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val be­cause it’s a film fes­ti­val that meant so much to Roger,” said Chaz Ebert, who has only seen early clips. “I just felt I want to have the ex­pe­ri­ence of see­ing a movie about him with the Sun­dance au­di­ence.” Ebert was a long-time sup­porter and Sun­dance at­tendee, writ­ing in 1997 about be­ing at the fes­ti­val in its early years when the award cer­e­mony was in a ho­tel con­fer­ence room.

Life It­self in­cludes footage direc­tor Steve James — fa­mous for 1994’s Hoop Dreams — gath­ered over the fi­nal four months of the famed film critic’s life. Ebert died in April af­ter a long bat­tle with can­cer. Chaz Ebert and the crowds in Park City, Utah, won’t be the only ones watch­ing the pre­mière on Sun­day. Film­mak­ers tapped into Ebert’s wide net of on­line fans to crowd-fund $150,000 for fi­nal pro­duc­tion costs. Donors will re­ceive a code that lets them stream the doc­u­men­tary at the same time it plays at Sun­dance. “A big part that went into the de­ci­sion-mak­ing was this idea of build­ing com­mu­nity for the film and get­ting peo­ple in­volved,” James said. More than 1,600 peo­ple con­trib­uted to the on­line cam­paign that ended Tues­day. The film’s bud­get also in­cluded fund­ing from pri­vate sources and foun­da­tion grants. The doc­u­men­tary will in some ways be dif­fer­ent from what James en­vi­sioned when he asked the Eberts if he could shadow them and tell the story of Ebert’s 2012 au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, Life It­self. “When I started I wasn’t an­tic­i­pat­ing that he would be gone in four months from the day we started film­ing. I thought I was go­ing to show him be­ing in­cred­i­bly vi­brant and ac­tive de­spite what he went through,” James said. The first day of film­ing wasn’t at a screen­ing or din­ner party, it was at Chicago’s North­west­ern Memo­rial Hos­pi­tal. The Pulitzer Prize-win­ning critic lost por­tions of his jaw and the abil­ity to speak, eat and drink af­ter can­cer surg­eries in 2006. Shortly be­fore he died, he an­nounced he was un­der­go­ing ra­di­a­tion treat­ment for a re­cur­rence of can­cer. De­spite Ebert’s ill­ness, James said he feels he was able to cap­ture the long­time Chicago SunTimes colum­nist’s spirit and sense of hu­mour, pre­sent­ing the man, not just the icon. “He’s been such a great and im­por­tant in­flu­ence on my ca­reer. It’s a film I hope if he were still with us that he would love. I was think­ing about him all the time when I was mak­ing this film, ‘What would he think?’” James said. About two dozen in­ter­views are part of the film, in­clud­ing with di­rec­tors Werner Her­zog and Martin Scors­ese, as well as Mar­lene Iglitzen, the wife of Ebert’s late fa­mous part­ner, Gene Siskel. “Go­ing in I had this in mind that I was go­ing to fol­low him around some in the pre­sent and use his life in the pre­sent as spring­board to his life in the past,” James said. James said the Eberts “re­ally opened up,” and al­lowed his crew ac­cess. Chaz Ebert said James was un­ob­tru­sive, though she still no­ticed the cam­eras. “I am so glad we said yes. I am so glad that we will have a record of this re­ally gra­cious, bril­liant, ex­tra­or­di­nary man. I hope that there is some hu­mour in it be­cause Roger was very funny. He loved a good laugh,” she said. The doc­u­men­tary isn’t Chaz Ebert’s only re­cent effort at keep­ing her late hus­band’s mem­ory alive. She is work­ing on sev­eral projects, in­clud­ing the rogere­bert.com movie re­view web­site, a Broad­way show, TV shows and an an­i­mated re­view show. “A lot of these are projects that Roger and I had in the hop­per for a while. I don’t want peo­ple to think ‘Oh, all of these are new projects.’ Roger was in­cred­i­bly en­er­getic, even in his ill­ness,” she said. Life It­self will have screen­ings next month in New York, Los An­ge­les, Chicago and Ebert’s home­town of Ur­bana, Ill. Film­mak­ers said plans for the­atri­cal dis­tri­bu­tion are still be­ing worked out.

CHARLES REX ARBOGAST / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS ARCHIVES

Roger Ebert waves to fans in Chicago in 2007 along­side his wife Chaz, left, and their grand­daugh­ter Raven Evans. A doc­u­men­tary about the film critic’s life will screen at the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val Sun­day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.