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Documentary based on Roger Ebert's memoir to be shown at 'Ebertfest'

1/15/2014 | Craig Chamberlain, Social Sciences Editor | 217-333-2894;

[ Email | Share ] CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The new documentary “Life Itself,” about the life of Roger Ebert, will be one of the 12 films shown at this year’s Roger Ebert’s Film Festival, or “Ebertfest,” coming April 23-27 to Champaign and Urbana, Ill.

Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival this month, “Life Itself” was directed by documentary filmmaker Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”) and is based on Ebert’s 2011 memoir of the same name. It features interviews with more than two dozen of Ebert’s lifelong friends, professional colleagues and filmmakers, including Ramin Bahrani, Werner Herzog and Martin Scorsese.

“Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel first championed my film, ‘Hoop Dreams,’ which was essential to its success,” according to James, in an open letter for The Daily Beast. “With the same spirit in which Roger shared so much of his life with his fans and followers, we hope to build a community for this film where people can participate in the celebration of Roger’s legacy and impact on all of us.”

“Many know Roger’s story to be inspiring,” James wrote. “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 is set to attend the 16th annual Ebertfest as a filmmaker guest and will participate in a customary question-and-answer session following the screening, the date and time of which has not been set.

The “Life Itself” screening is sponsored by Steak ’n Shake, a longtime Ebertfest sponsor and the subject of a chapter in Ebert’s book.

Ebertfest is a five-day film festival that annually has showcased 12 to 14 films that Ebert, a 1964 Illinois journalism graduate, believed had been overlooked by audiences, critics or distributors. Ebert died on April 4, 2013.

Presented through the College of Media at Illinois, the festival will be hosted, as in recent years, by Ebert’s wife, Chaz.

All films are screened at the 1,500-seat Virginia Theatre in downtown Champaign, a restored movie palace built in the 1920s. A portion of the festival’s income is devoted to the theater’s ongoing renovations.

The full slate of films and guests for this year’s festival will be announced in March. Past festivals have included a variety of renowned actors and filmmakers.

Passes for the 16th annual Ebertfest, covering all screenings, are now on sale and can be purchased online through the festival website or the Virginia Theater box office. Tickets for individual films will be available for purchase starting April 1.

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