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Roger Ebert documentary 'Life Itself' picked up for distribution

After premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Life Itself, a documentary about the life of film critic Roger Ebert, will be distributed theatrically by Magnolia Pictures. Directed by Steve James (Hoop Dreams), the film will also be broadcast exclusively on CNN later this year after its scheduled summer release. This is the second such deal with Magnolia and CNN after their collaboration last year on the documentary Blackfish, which also premiered at Sundance.

“Roger Ebert gets the tribute he deserves with Life Itself,” said Magnolia President Eamonn Bowles. “Steve James has done a beautiful job capturing Roger’s complexity and energy in a loving but wonderfully clear-eyed portrait.”

Based on his memoir of the same name, Life Itself explores the fascinating and flawed journey of Ebert from school newspaperman to the movie critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, and from Pulitzer Prize winner to finding love later in life. Ebert died last year after a decade-long battle with papillary thyroid cancer that left him no longer able to speak. In his “third act,” the first critic to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame emerged as a major voice on the Internet.

“Magnolia is the perfect partner for bringing this film on such a seminal figure in film to the big screen,” said Steve James. “Roger’s story deserves it.”

Sundance 2014: Roger Ebert makes an enthralling documentary subject in 'Life Itself'

The first time we hear Roger Ebert talk in Life Itself, a deeply enthralling documentary about the late film critic who changed film criticism, he’s giving a speech (which he did quite often — sometimes, I can testify, when he was just standing in a room with you), and he observes that every one of us is more or less trapped inside the person we are. It is therefore our job, says Ebert, to attempt to understand who other people are; that’s basically the premise of civilization. And that, for Ebert, is where movies come in. Movies, he says, are “a machine that generates empathy,” and that’s just about as perfect an evocation of the primal appeal of movies as I have ever heard. It’s also a great example of why Roger Ebert was such a compelling writer, thinker, talker, and human being. It didn’t even matter whether you agreed with him — he had a way of putting things that was pithy and practical and philosophical all at the same time. He stopped drinking in 1979, but the easy, flowing panache of the barroom raconteur never left him. His thoughts, and the way that he expressed them, were catchy, infectious, contagious. Even when you did disagree with him (which, in my case, was often), the way he put things created a logic of enchantingly fused thought and passion. READ FULL STORY

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