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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

Martin Scorsese wants your support for Indiegogo campaign of Roger Ebert doc 'Life Itself' -- EXCLUSIVE VIDEO

Martin Scorsese gives it two thumbs up — and thinks you should too.

In an EW exclusive, the Oscar-winning director shares his thoughts on film critic Roger Ebert and the upcoming documentary on Ebert’s life and legacy, Life Itself. Directed by Steve James (Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters), the documentary is based on the well-known critic and film lover’s eponymous memoir. It chronicles his life as an advocate for great cinema and his inspiring battle with cancer.

The video also marks the launch of Life Itself‘s Indiegogo campaign to complete the film, currently in post-production. One of the key benefits for supporters who donate $25 or more is an early private screening of the doc prior to its official theatrical release. The campaign hopes to reach the goal of $150,000 with additional proceeds above the goal going towards charities close to Ebert, such as the Roger & Chaz Ebert Foundation.

Watch the heartfelt video below:

Roger Ebert's 71st birthday: Jason Reitman on the critic directors loved

Roger Ebert died on April 4 after a long battle with cancer. To commemorate what would have been his 71st birthday today, EW is republishing this essay by filmmaker Jason Reitman, written in tribute shortly after the critic’s passing.

I spoke with Roger Ebert perhaps a dozen times, but only heard his voice once. READ FULL STORY

Chicago celebs gather to honor Roger Ebert

Hollywood came to Chicago on Thursday as actors, directors, film critics and studio presidents honored late movie reviewer Roger Ebert in his hometown.

All of those who shared memories at the Chicago Theatre cheered Ebert as a champion of movies and a critic who used his influence to help filmmakers find audiences. He died last week at age 70 after a years-long battle with cancer.

“He was always supportive of artists. He always gave you a fair shake,” said Chicago native John Cusack, who appeared with his sister and fellow actor, Joan Cusack.

Ebert worked at the Chicago Sun-Times for more than 40 years. The day before his April 4 death, he wrote in a post on his blog that he was taking a break from his schedule of almost-daily movie reviewing because the cancer had recurred.

“He was simply one of the finest men I ever met,” Chaz Ebert said of her late husband during Thursday night’s memorial. READ FULL STORY

Richard Roeper on his colleague and friend Roger Ebert: 'He was a true fan of the movies.'

Legendary film critic Roger Ebert, who died Thursday at age 70, was known for his Chicago Sun-Times reviews he wrote solo, but many movie fans were introduced to him in his collaborative projects, when he and another critic supplied audiences with entertaining and thought-provoking discourse about film on his multiple TV shows. He brought his discussions about the movies to television with the late Chicago Tribune writer Gene Siskel at his side, first on Coming Soon to a Theater Near You and later on Siskel and Ebert and the Movies. Beginning in 2000, his movie talks featured fellow Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper.

When EW spoke to Roeper today, he said that though Ebert’s death was somewhat expected following his long battle with thyroid cancer, “it still came as a shock, and when the moment comes, it still comes far too soon, and I feel it first and foremost as a loss of my friend, a wonderful friend and family man.”

Roeper told EW it has been “remarkable” seeing the “outpouring of sympathy, the attention” on Ebert’s career in the past day since the Chicago Sun-Times first reported his death on Thursday. While notable filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese and even President Barack Obama released statements in memoriam of the celebrated film critic, Roeper has also heard from “15-year-olds who say they want to become movie critics or they want to become filmmakers in great part because they were such great fans of Roger’s work on television and his writing as well.”

Werner Herzog on Roger Ebert, 'the good soldier of cinema' -- EXCLUSIVE

During over four decades of writing film reviews, Roger Ebert, who died at age 70 on Thursday, had a continually keen eye for blossoming talent, picking out directors like Martin Scorsese as ones to watch from their very first films, and he found plenty of filmmakers worthy of “two thumbs up” throughout his career. But one filmmaker whose work he championed with particular enthusiasm over the years was Werner Herzog.

The German director’s work — exotic films that blend the surreal with the real, fiction with non-fiction — includes the acclaimed documentaries Grizzly Man and Little Dieter Needs to Fly and the features Aguirre: the Wrath of God and Rescue Dawn.

More than once, Ebert expressed admiration for Herzog’s determination to make films on his own terms without any consistent source of funding. The independent filmmaker has made over 50 films since he released his first short in 1962. In a 2007 letter to Herzog, Ebert wrote, “You and your work are unique and invaluable, and you ennoble the cinema when so many debase it.”

When EW spoke with Herzog on the phone Thursday, the Munich-born filmmaker recounted their mutual admiration for each other’s work and reciprocated Ebert’s praise with similar reflections on Ebert’s own steadfastness amid the changing cultural views of entertainment . READ FULL STORY

More than just a great critic, Roger Ebert redefined movie criticism for the blockbuster age

For anyone who grew up in the late ’70s, ’80s, or ’90s watching Roger Ebert spar on television with his partner-in-thumbship, Gene Siskel, the rudely boisterous and antic sound of two grown men not just talking about movies but arguing about them came to seem as essential a part of the American movie landscape as popcorn or starships. If you’re a movie buff, it’s hard to imagine that both these men are gone now; their shows, and our memories of them, remain so alive. Back when Ebert and Siskel were major TV stars, I was often asked, especially if I was talking to a class of high school or college students, what I thought of their show — I always dug it — and also what I thought of the whole thumbs-up/thumbs down system. On that score, I confessed, I was more ambivalent. It was a useful system, to be sure; it was catchy and fun and, in its way, defining. But I had a few problems with it (which I’ll get to in a bit). READ FULL STORY

Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Harvey Weinstein, Barack Obama reflect on the career and life of Roger Ebert

Acclaimed film critic Roger Ebert has written many words of praise over the years for celebrated, prolific filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and Harvey Weinstein. Now, following the news of Ebert’s death on Thursday, these three filmmakers have their own words of admiration for Ebert.

Spielberg — whom Ebert praised for his enduring “talent and flexibility” in an ever-changing industry — said in a statement that the Chicago Sun-Times critic “wrote with passion through a real knowledge of film and film history.” Read his full statement below, which also highlights the success of the multiple television programs Ebert hosted for 23 years (including At the Movies, which Ebert co-hosted with Gene Siskel, who is pictured above): READ FULL STORY

Film critic Roger Ebert dies at 70

Roger Ebert, the Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic whose famous thumbs-up or thumbs-down verdict helped make him the most famous reviewer in America, died Thursday of complications from cancer, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, where he wrote for 46 years. He was 70.

Ebert had been battling thyroid cancer since 2002, but never gave up his aisle-seat post or his love of cinema, publishing more than 300 reviews last year alone despite his inability to speak without the help of a voice machine due to an operation that removed his lower jaw. On Wednesday, he announced that his cancer had returned and that he would be taking “a leave of presence”. Readers hoped that it was merely another temporary set-back and that Ebert would return to share his trusted opinions. Sadly, it was not to be.

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