Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Watching New Ebert Documentary a 'Joyous' Experience for Film Critic's Wife

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Watching New Ebert Documentary a 'Joyous' Experience for Film Critic's Wife

Article excerpt

Personal side of Ebert showcased in doc

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TORONTO - When shooting began for "Life Itself" -- a documentary based on film critic Roger Ebert's 2011 memoir -- no one imagined it would document his death.

Shortly after embarking on the project, Ebert learned his cancer had returned. He died just months later in April 2013.

His widow, Chaz Ebert, said screening a film that her husband was not able to see left her with mixed emotions.

"In the beginning it was painful to watch because it was still so (early) in the grieving process but now, I have to tell you, it's joyous," Chaz Ebert said in a recent phone interview from Chicago. "I loved spending two hours with Roger."

Chaz said the pair granted "Hoop Dreams" filmmaker Steve James "full access," including shooting in hospitals and rehabilitation centres when permitted.

"We felt that to honour Roger's legacy, the best thing to do was to continue with the making of the film, not stop it," she said.

The result is an intimate look at the final months of Ebert's life, as well as a portrait of his rise as one of the most important film critics of his time. "Life Itself" weaves interviews with Chaz, former colleagues and filmmakers, with footage from his combative bouts with Gene Siskel in "At the Movies" and home videos showing his seldom-seen role as a family man.

"Life Itself" opens in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa on July 11, with Chaz Ebert set to attend the Toronto premiere.

In addition to chronicling Ebert's early career as a reporter, the film also delves into the critic's personal life, including his support for Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which he described in a 2009 blog post as "the best thing that ever happened to me."

"I came to love the program and the friends I was making through meetings, some of whom are close friends to this day," he wrote on RogerEbert.com.

"Life Itself" reveals for the first time that one of those relationships became the most important in his life -- AA is what brought Ebert and his future wife together. Chaz Ebert said she had been hesitant to share that detail but ultimately did so because she wanted "Life Itself" to be the "definitive" film about her husband's life. …

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