Before the screening began at last night’s Hollywood premiere of director Steve James’ Roger Ebert documentary Life Itself, Ebert’s remarkable wife Chaz shared something with the packed crowd of industry notables that her late husband told her as they were embarking on the shooting of the film. “Roger said, ‘Make sure Steve doesn’t make a movie I don’t want to see’,” she laughed. Mission accomplished, but in a cruel stroke of irony for the world’s most famous film critic, he didn’t live to see it completed.
Related: Sundance: Roger Ebert Docu Debut Draws Cheers & Tears
James, best known for his 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams, has made a tough, entertaining, unsentimental and enormously moving film that everyone should want to see. It’s not just about a blue-collar kid from Chicago, who turned into a Pulitzer Prize-winning movie critic. It’s mostly an unflinching and unapologetic account of a man determined to keep on keepin’ on after devastating cancer robbed him of his speech and ability to eat but not his mind, his love for movies or, most of all, his love for Chaz, his wife of 20 years who stood by him and kept him going long after others would have given up. “Roger lived his life out loud, even when he lost his physical voice,” she said. Of the movie, which is brutally honest about his illness and never looks away, my wife said, “It’s the greatest love story I have ever seen”. It is that too. Just before rolling the film, Chaz noted that she had an empty chair in the front row at the Arclight that said simply, ‘Reserved for Roger’ because “he told me I’ll always be in the front row cheering you on”.
Related: Hot Trailer: Roger Ebert Docu ‘Life Itself’
Magnolia will release the film next week, and though the Academy’s documentary branch often ignores movies about the movies, this one is irresistible. Wouldn’t it be ironic if a movie about a film critic who wrote books called I Hated Hated HATED This Movie and Your Movie Sucks (among many others more positive to the medium) were to win an Oscar? I spotted plenty of Academy voters in the audience last night, including Acad President Cheryl Boone Isaacs. Read More »
His career is pretty much summed up in this trailer’s first words: “Roger Ebert was the definitive mainstream film critic in American cinema.” Life Itself is the new documentary about the Pulitzer winner’s career as a lover, defender and eviscerator of movies. The pic follows his career from scripting Russ Meyer’s Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls and writing for the Chicago Sun-Times through his perfectly mismatched pairing with Gene Siskel and the illness he braved until the end. Oscar-nominated Hoop Dreams documentarian Steve James gets some boldfaced names to talk about Ebert, including Martin Scorsese, who gives the critic two thumbs up: “He made it possible for a bigger audience, a wider audience, to appreciate cinema as an art form.” Magnolia Pictures, which acquired the film after its Sundance premiere, will open it day-and-date on the Fourth of July in theaters and on VOD and iTunes. It later will air on CNN. The curtain’s up, so check out the coming attraction:
Related: Sundance: Roger Ebert Docu Debut Draws Cheers & Tears
The 16th annual Roger Ebert‘s Film Festival, also known as Ebertfest, will kick off April 23 with the critic himself. The Ebert documentary Life Itself, from director Steve James (Hoop Dreams), will open the annual film festival held in Champaign-Urbana, IL where special guests Spike Lee, Oliver Stone, Patton Oswalt, Ramin Bahrani, Brie Larson, Sony Classics co-president Michael Barker, Fandor’s Ted Hope, and critics David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson will be in attendance. Established as a haven for overlooked but praiseworthy films, Ebertfest this year will screen Lee’s Do The Right Thing, Stone’s Born On The Fourth of July, Jason Reitman’s Young Adult starring Oswalt, Bahrani’s Goodbye Solo, and last year’s acclaimed SXSW winner Short Term 12 featuring a breakout turn by Larson, whose co-star Keith Stanfield will also be in attendance. New Orleans blues musician Henry Butler is set to close out the fest with a special performance in honor of jazz singer and pianist James Booker. Chaz Ebert will host the festival created by her late husband, who passed away last April. Here’s the full slate: Read More »
Magnolia Pictures acquired the Sundance documentary Life Itself, which covered the life of beloved film critic Roger Ebert. Steve James of Hoop Dreams fame directed the picture, which is being eyed for summer release followed by a broadcast on CNN.
Related: Sundance: Roger Ebert Docu Debut Draws Cheers & Tears
“I think I am so fortunate to have had one of the greatest love stories,” Chaz Ebert emotionally told the crowd tonight at the Sundance Film Festival world premiere screening of the biographical documentary about her late husband Roger Ebert, who died April 4. “He would say two thumbs up, way up,” a visibly moved Chaz said when asked what Ebert would think about the Steve James-directed Life Itself. Speaking about her late husband’s love of film, Chaz Ebert told the audience that he believed that a pic did its job if “you left the movie as a truer version” of yourself. That prompted another round of applause in an evening of many. She said watching the film was “very emotional” for her. Presented by CNN Film and with Martin Scorsese among its executive producers, the intimate, nuanced, touching and often funny film combines footage of Ebert in his final months, excepts from his best-selling memoir, interviews with the likes of The Wolf of Wall Street director and archival footage.
Related: Reactions To Roger Ebert’s Death
“This was the easiest film to program ever,” said festival director John Cooper before the screening started. Part of that ease is that Life Itself is a film about Ebert and in many ways about Sundance … Read More »
The Sundance Film Festival today unveiled its Premieres and Documentary Premieres sections for the 30th anniversary gathering in Park City next month. Among the selections in the out-of-competition sections is the William H. Macy-directed musical drama Rudderless, which will be the fest’s closing night film. The rock and roll themed pic is the Shameless star’s feature directorial debut and stars him as well as Selena Gomez Billy Crudup, Felicity Huffman, Anton Yelchin, and Laurence Fishburne, Rudderless will play at 6:30PM on the night of January 24th in the Eccles at the upcoming Sundance, which runs January 16-26.
Sundance Reveals U.S. & World Cinema Competition Slates
Sundance Unveils Spotlight, Midnight, Frontier Films & New Kids Slate
Among other premiering films announced today for next month’s Sundance is a documentary about one of the festival’s biggest supporters Roger Ebert. The Steve James-directed film about the Pulitzer Prize winning critic, who passed away on April 4 this year, will see the writer’s wife Chaz Ebert in attendance. This coming Sundance also sees the festival’s first Fellowship for Film Criticism inspired by Ebert. The 2014 festival will see the return of directors Michael Winterbottom, Gregg Araki and Lynn Shelton, who had her Your Sister’s Sister follow-up Touchy Feely in the 2013 festival, with new films. The Indonesian action pic The Raid … Read More »
The late Roger Ebert was a regular and presence around the Sundance Film Festival grounds. Now his legacy will help develop the next generation of film critics making the Yarrow their second home at Sundance 2014. The festival today announced its first Fellowship for Film Criticism, which will award six emerging film critics a grant for expenses to cover the annual fest that runs from January 16-26, 2014 in Park City. The Sundance-Ebert fellows will have access to screenings and workshops with pro film critics and industry figures as well as the chance to pitch to fest partner Indiewire. The program is funded by the Sundance Institute’s Roger Ebert Scholarship for Film Criticism and is geared toward moderately experienced newbies; applicants must have completed at least 3 years undergrad and cannot have more than two years writing criticism or journalism about film. Submissions will be accepted at FilmCriticFellowship@gmail.com and must include a one-page resume, 3 film-related writing samples, and a 300-word statement of intent. The deadline is October 31.
EXCLUSIVE: Too often, I reveal projects I feel like I’ve seen before. Occasionally, I write about ones that I know I’m going to want to see. Here’s one of those. How about a feature about the unusual relationship between two icons in their respective fields, film critic Roger Ebert and soft core helmer Russ Meyer, as they teamed to make Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls at 20th Century Fox? Mark Amin’s Sobini Films has partnered with David Permut and Richard Waltzer to acquire Russ & Roger Go Beyond, a script by Emmy-winning Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons scribe Christopher Cluess.
The script focus is the late 1960s, when cheap counterculture films like Easy Rider were minting money, and 20th Century Fox was struggling mightily over a number of big-budget flops. Meyer was already established as the outlaw helmer of soft-core pulp films like Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill, and he wanted the legitimacy of making a studio film. Richard Zanuck, then head of 20th, gave him that opportunity because his profit margins were so high and his costs were miniscule.
Meyer agreed to take on Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls on the condition that the script get written by Ebert, who, as the third-string movie critic of the Chicago Sun Times, had written one of the few positive reviews Meyer had ever received. So obviously he liked Roger’s writing. It was all fun from there, as Meyer brought in his usual buxom brigade and he and Ebert struggled with the studio’s board of directors and the ratings board. Despite being the rare major studio release with an X rating, they were vindicated when Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls was released in 1970 to big box office. Meyer and Ebert remained friends until the former passed away in 2004. Ebert, who passed away this year from cancer — he kept writing right till the end — was touchingly feted at the Toronto Film Festival opening-night ceremony before the premiere of The Fifth Estate. Read More »
Toronto Film Festival officials said today they will open this year’s edition tomorrow night with a tribute to critic Roger Ebert, who received similar homage treatment at this year’s just-ended Telluride Film Festival. The tribute will precede the screening of the opening-night film, the Julian Assange pic The Fifth Estate, in Roy Thomson Hall. A video will feature homages to Ebert from festival co-founder Bill Marshall, former festival director Helga Stephenson, producer Robert Lantos and others. The fest will present Ebert’s widow Chaz with a commemorative plaque, a replica of one that has been installed on a chair named in the critic’s honor inside TIFF Bell Lightbox’s Cinema One, the festival’s year-round home. Ebert, who died in April, was a champion of TIFF from its start in 1976, later calling the festival “the most important in North America”. “Roger was a huge presence at the festival for over 30 years,” said Toronto director and CEO Piers Handling. “He was one of the key people who put the Toronto International Film Festival on the map, and we feel it is only fitting that we pay tribute to Roger in the way we would hope he would have wanted — in a cinema surrounded by friends, family and the Toronto audience, which was so close to Roger’s heart.” The Toronto fest runs through September 15.
The festival said today that this year’s 40th edition will be dedicated in part to film critic Roger Ebert. He died in April at age 70 after a long bout with cancer. Said the fest in its release today announcing the honor: “Until his health began to fail, Ebert was a fixture at Telluride over much of its 40-year history and championed the festival and its films in his writing. With its mountain-town setting and diverse array of screenings, Telluride, Ebert once said, ‘is like Cannes died and went to heaven’.” The fest also said an anonymous donor made a financial contribution in Ebert’s name toward the new 650-seat Werner Herzog Theater that is being dedicated this week; Ebert and Herzog were longtime admirers of one another. The fest is also dedicated this year to documentarian Les Blank, philanthropist and Telluride supporter George Gund, and writer-director Donald Richie, all of whom died in the past year.
Related: Telluride: Oscar Contenders Flock As Festival Season Arrives
Listen to (and share) episode 21 of our audio podcast Deadline Awards Watch With Pete Hammond. Our awards columnist and host David Bloom talk about the passing of Roger Ebert, perhaps the most influential film critic ever, and what it means to be a film critic in an era of Rotten Tomatoes, Reddit and Twitter. Pete also looks at what he thinks is a lock for the Cannes Film Festival, a film that will be vying for Emmy rather than Oscar glory, and reports on Tom Cruise’s premiere-night effort to help ensure the name of sci-fi epic Oblivion, opening overseas this weekend, doesn’t become the film’s fate. Pete also talks about this week’s movie debuts as the Jackie Robinson biopic 42 swings for the fences, and platform releases Disconnect and To The Wonder by director Terence Malick try to connect with audiences.
Deadline Awards Watch, Episode 21 (MP3 format)
Deadline Awards Watch, Episode 21 (MP4a format) Read More »
A funeral for late Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert will be held Monday at Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral. The service, open to the public, will begin at 10 AM for friends and fans. A memorial tribute has also been set for April 11 for the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, who passed away on Thursday.
Certainly Roger Ebert will be remembered for many things. Winning an unprecedented Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for film criticism is just one of them. For me, though, beyond that distinction Roger was far more unique in the pantheon of the truly great critics of our time, and all time. Along with Gene Siskel he figured out a way to take film criticism to the masses in a way it never really had been, at least on a national basis. With their patented ’2 Thumbs Up’ and ’2 Thumbs Down’ reviews on their pioneering PBS and later syndicated weekly TV show, this pair not only brought the job of a film critic into the national consciousness, they also made it fun. And accessible. The ‘thumbs’ signature was really the forerunner of a site like Rotten Tomatoes, an instantly recognizable label that moviegoers could use like a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval when it appeared in an ad as it did hundreds of times.
Related: Reactions To Roger Ebert’s Death
Unlike so many critics today Roger Ebert loved movies, even when he hated them, an attribute so many of today’s self-absorbed so-called critics greatly lack. In fact one of my favorite personal Ebert memories happened at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival at a mid-day screening of Vincent Gallo’s unwatchable The Brown Bunny. Not only did he call it then the worst movie in the festival’s history, he added, “I have not seen every film in the history of the festival, yet I feel my judgement will stand”. At one excruciating point in the film he even started singing “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” out loud, eliciting laughter from what was left of the audience at that point. I wondered at the time “now who has the chutzpah to do that?” only to find it was Roger. Read More »
In addition to the flood of Twitter posts on the passing of film critic Roger Ebert today — Ebert was a huge presence on the social media site with more than 800,000 followers — condolences are coming in from all corners, including from fellow Chicagoan President Obama. We’ll post more as we get them:
Related: Roger Ebert – An Appreciation
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President Barack Obama:
Michelle and I are saddened to hear about the passing of Roger Ebert. For a generation of Americans — and especially Chicagoans — Roger was the movies. When he didn’t like a film, he was honest; when he did, he was effusive — capturing the unique power of the movies to take us somewhere magical. Even amidst his own battles with cancer, Roger was as productive as he was resilient — continuing to share his passion and perspective with the world. The movies won’t be the same without Roger, and our thoughts and prayers are with Chaz and the rest of the Ebert family.
AFI President Bob Gazzale
Roger Ebert championed the art of the moving image and by the courage of his personal example demonstrated how much movies matter. On behalf of all of us who love the movies – thumbs up, Roger – for a life well lived and our heart-felt thanks for all the gifts you will continue to give us as time goes by.
Randolph Kret, Indican Pictures
We at Indican Pictures are deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Roger Ebert. For a generation of filmgoers Roger was the voice they could trust — like a family member who would tell you if he didn’t like a film or praise it when he did. For us, he was an early supporter who critiqued our small films which helped us gain a national voice, a gift we will always be grateful for. The two words that sum up our experiences with Roger Ebert — were grace and passion. He was a passionate man about films and their impact on our lives and he so loved to share that passion with all of us. Having battled cancer myself I have some understanding of the battles he survived, but I could never match the grace, poise and good humor that he exhibited during such trying times. The movies won’t be the same without Roger, our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Chaz and the rest of the Ebert family. In closing we leave you with a line from one of Roger’s guilty pleasures: A line from The Mummy – “Death is only the beginning”. Roger – we look forward to your next act.
DGA president Taylor Hackford:
“From the mightiest blockbuster to the smallest independent film, Roger Ebert devoted his career to sharing his love of film with generations of moviegoers. The role of critics is to call them as they see them and Roger did so with integrity. In more than four decades of honest review of our films, Roger demanded excellence — but recognized directorial achievements. For his dedication and service to the craft, in 2009, the DGA awarded him our Honorary Life Member Award. He will be deeply missed.” Read More »
Legendary movie critic Roger Ebert died today. He was 70. He announced in a blog post Tuesday night that he was fighting another bout with cancer and “must slow down” his work, which included a new website launching next week to archive all of his reviews for the Chicago Sun-Times, as well as his annual movie festival. He also was considering a new book as a follow-up to his 2011 memoir Life Itself which Martin Scorsese and Steve Zaillian are teaming to produce as a documentary with Steve James (Hoop Dreams) helming. Ebert was first diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2002 and suffered many health complications since then. But he worked right up until the end. This week, Ebert announced that he was stepping down as lead film critic for the Sun-Times, where his column has appeared since 1967 and later online. “It is with a heavy heart we report that legendary film critic Roger Ebert has passed away,” the newspaper tweeted to Ebert’s 700,000 Twitter followers. But Ebert became best-known for his TV film review shows partnered with Gene Siskel over a 23-year span for PBS and then syndication. Their “thumbs-up” and “thumbs-down” critiques were some of the most feared or cheered in Hollywood - and trusted by the public. After Siskel’s death in 1999, Ebert teamed with film critic Richard Roeper for another TV series beginning in 2000. During Ebert’s illness, however, he did not appear on the show after mid-2006 although his name remained in the title through 2008.
From then on, Ebert would appear on TV in fits and starts, courageously refusing to let his health complications interfere with his chosen profession and lifelong obsession. He wrote more than 15 books including an annual movie yearbook. In 1975, he became the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. His TV programs were nominated for Emmys. In 1995, a section of Chicago’s Erie Street was renamed Siskel & Ebert Way. Since 1999, he hosted the annual Roger Eberts’ Film Festival in Champaign, IL. In 2005, Ebert was the first film critic to be awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. As of 2010, Ebert’s movie reviews appeared in more than 200 newspapers in the United States and worldwide via Universal Press Syndicate. Read More »