Film critic, wife participated in its making before his death last April
CHAMPAIGN — The new Roger Ebert biopic, "Life Itself," will be shown at the 2014 festival bearing his name.
Fittingly, it's the first official selection of a dozen movies that will be shown at Roger Ebert's Film Festival from April 23-27 at the Virginia Theatre in Champaign. Festival director Nate Kohn said he and Ebert's widow, Chaz, will announce the full festival lineup in March.
The Champaign screening will be among the first for the documentary inspired by Ebert's memoir of the same title. Its world premiere is set for this weekend at Utah's renowned Sundance Film Festival.
"Life Itself" was directed by Steve James, who 20 years ago drew rave reviews for another documentary with a local flavor — "Hoop Dreams." Ebert and fellow critic Gene Siskel were among the first to champion the 1994 Illinois high school basketball documentary, which James said was essential to its success.
James hopes "Life Itself" builds a community of people who can celebrate Ebert's legacy. It features interviews with more than two dozen of Ebert's lifelong friends and colleagues, including Martin Scorsese, an executive producer of the doc.
The Eberts gave James their blessing and participated in the filming of the documentary, up to when Ebert died on April 4, 2013, in Chicago.
James promises that "Life Itself" will not idealize the late Ebert, an Urbana High School graduate and Pulitzer Prize winner.
"Many know Roger's story to be inspiring," James says. "But he was also a flesh-and-blood man whose life was full of humor, hubris and his own share of heartbreak. We are aiming to tell the whole story."
James plans to attend the 16th Ebertfest and participate in the on-stage Q&A session following the screening. The time and date has not been set.