C-U a premiere site for Ebert documentary
A new documentary about late legendary film critic Roger Ebert will premiere early next year in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles ... and Champaign-Urbana.
"The usual four cities," joked Zak Piper, the film's producer.
The documentary is titled "Life Itself," based on Ebert's 2011 memoir of the same name.
The film's director is Steve James, one of three men who made "Hoop Dreams," a basketball documentary that also seriously explored social issues and prominently featured Champaign-Urbana, then home to the Illinois high school state championships.
Ebert championed the film and became close with James. In 1994, the year it was released, Ebert wrote: "A film like 'Hoop Dreams' is what the movies are for. It takes us, shakes us, and makes us think in new ways about the world around us. It gives us the impression of having touched life itself."
"Life Itself" production began in 2012, while Ebert was still able to collaborate. The film was made with the full approval of his widow, Chaz Ebert, Piper said.
Filming took place throughout Champaign-Urbana, including Ebert's childhood home, the former site of the Daily Illini, and extensively at the 2013 Roger Ebert Film Festival here.
James interviewed more than two dozen friends and colleagues, including the first interview with TV co-host Gene Siskel's wife, as well as filmmakers Errol Morris, Werner Herzog, Ramin Bahrani, Gregory Nava, Ava DuVernay and Martin Scorsese, who is also an executive producer.
Piper said the movie depicts events in Chicago, where Ebert was the Sun-Times' Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic; in Urbana, where he went to high school and then on to the University of Illinois; and in Champaign, home of The News-Gazette, where he got his journalism start, and the Virginia Theatre, where Ebertfest is based.
One of Ebertfest's original sponsors was Betsy Hendrick, who owns Hendrick House in Urbana and worked closely with Ebert at The News-Gazette.
She contributed to the film's fund-raising effort Friday, and can't wait to see old photos from the time when she and Ebert spent hours proof-reading homeroom assignments in tiny type.
"I'm really eager to see this movie become reality," Hendrick said. "As a sponsor, I hope to have a good seat for the premiere."
Piper said he couldn't be more specific than early 2014 about when "Life Itself" will premiere. Final editing is still being done on the documentary, which Piper said has a budget of about $1 million and was shot on a high-definition Canon camera.
CNN Films acquired the U.S. broadcast rights for "Life Itself" earlier this year.
Crowd-funding campaign underway
Champaign-Urbana film fans can be part of the community bankrolling "Life Itself," the new documentary about Roger Ebert.
The producers have launched a crowd-funding campaign on the Indiegogo website to raise $150,000.
Producer Zak Piper said the effort raised more than $18,000 in its first 48 hours.
Sponsors will have their names linked to different Ebert movie reviews, and will be eligible for special screenings for 100 people each in Champaign, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.