Movies with local ties earn spots at film festival
The 2014 Sundance Film Festival will feature screenings of three documentaries with ties to Champaign-Urbana, among them the world premiere of "Life Itself," the documentary based on Roger Ebert's memoir of the same title.
"Life Itself," directed by Steve James, will be shown Jan. 19 in the premieres category of the festival in Park City, Utah.
The other Sundance screenings of documentaries with local connections:
— A digitally remastered, high-definition version of "Hoop Dreams," directed by James and co-written and co-produced by C-U native Frederick Marx, will be shown at Sundance for the first time in its "From the Collection Program."
The documentary premiered there 20 years ago. It follows the five-year journey of Chicago basketball prodigies Arthur Agee and William Gates as they chase their dreams of becoming professional basketball players.
— "Nick Offerman: American Ham," directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts and starring Offerman, a University of Illinois theater alumnus, in his one-man show at New York's historic Town Hall theaters.
Offerman also presented "American Ham" on Oct. 26 at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts as a benefit for the UI's Japan House and in honor of Shozo Sato, his mentor at the UI. The show in the 2,066-seat Foellinger Great Hall sold out.
In a recent story about the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, AP film writer Jessica Herndon listed the Offerman documentary as one of the most anticipated shows at the festival, taking place Jan. 16-26.
Offerman's breakthrough role is as Ron Swanson on the NBC sitcom "Parks and Recreation." He also has appeared in movies, and because of his notoriety as Swanson, has been landing roles in more mainstream fare.
As for "Life Itself," the documentary, Daniel Fienberg wrote for the website Hitfix that it recounts "the surprising and entertaining life of renowned film critic and social commentator Roger Ebert."
"The film details his early days as a freewheeling bachelor and Pulitzer Prize winner, his famously contentious partnership with Gene Siskel, his life-altering marriage, and his brave and transcendent battle with cancer."
"Life Itself" also will premiere in early 2014 in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Champaign, producer Zak Piper told The News-Gazette last month. He did not know then where the documentary will be shown here.
The production began in 2012, while Ebert was able to collaborate, and was made with the approval of Chaz Ebert, Piper said. Roger Ebert died April 4 in Chicago as a result of cancer.
Filming took place here, including at Ebert's childhood home on Washington Street in Urbana; at the former site of the Daily Illini, the UI student newspaper; and at the 2013 Roger Ebert's Film Festival at the Virginia Theatre and on the UI campus.
Among those interviewed for the documentary was Martin Scorsese, who is its executive producer.
CNN Films acquired the U.S. broadcast rights for "Life Itself" earlier this year.
James recently launched an online campaign to raise money to help finish the documentary. As of late Thursday morning, the Indiegogo campaign had raised $77,476 toward its $150,000 goal.
All donors who contribute $25 or more will be able to watch a private live stream of "Life Itself" that will occur simultaneously with the screening at Sundance, according to the Indiegogo website.
Also, Indiegogo supporters of the documentary will be able to participate, via live stream, in an interactive Q&A with the filmmakers and other luminaries who were close to Ebert.
"Fans will be able to ask questions about Roger, the making of the film, and what Roger meant to the people whose lives he touched," according to a post by James at Indiegogo's website.