NR, 114 min.
Director: Steve James
Featuring: Roger Ebert, Martin Scorsese, Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, Ramin Bahrani, Chaz Ebert, Ava Duvernay, Stephen Stanton (voice), A.O. Scott, Marlene Iglitzen
When I wrote my review for the 15th Annual Roger Ebert Film Festival, the first without the man for whom it is named, a documentary filmmaker contacted me on my blogsite. Her name is Karen Gehres and had been invited to the film festival in 2009 to screen her incredible documentary “Begging Naked”. She just wanted to express to me how much she wished to experience another Ebertfest. We challenged each other to make it to this year’s festival. I hope she was more successful in her plans than I was.
Yes, I’m missing yet another Ebertfest, but as usual, I’m doing my best to recreate it at home. Luckily most of this year’s films are available for home viewing on one platform or another. My nearly brand new son is doing his best to keep me awake for some late night screenings as well. He’s the main reason I wasn’t able to meet Karen at the festival this year, so I’m sure he’s just trying to make up for that.
Anyway, like last year, the festival has sent a sudden rush of emotional loss at Ebert’s passing. The festival itself is one of his many cinematic legacies, though; and it seems as if the festival organizers have done a great job in keeping the spirit of the festival at the same top quality with this year’s films. I’ll get to the other movies over the next couple of days.
The opening night film, however, is one I won’t be able to watch at home. “Life Itself” debuted at this year’s Sundance film festival and is directed by Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”). It isn’t yet available to the public. It’s based on Ebert’s memoir of the same name, and I hope it’s half as good.
What it won’t have is Ebert’s casual writing style that distinguishes his work beyond his movie reviews. Reading a yarn spun by Ebert is kind of like listening to your grandfather speak about the more innocent time of his youth. He has such a comforting voice and puts such a positive spin on everything. Yes, that’s right. The movie critic has trouble being negative when he recollects his own life. I think that has something to do with why he was such a good critic.