Filmmakers To Complete Ebert Documentary Despite Famed Critic’s Death

Mark Deming
Movie Talk

Writing about the movies was a big part of Roger Ebert's life. Now documentary filmmaker Steve James is more determined than ever to bring that life to the screen.

In his final blog post published Tuesday evening, Ebert mentioned that James, whose credits include "Hoop Dreams," "Prefontaine" and "Stevie," was working on a film about him, with the critic's cooperation. "I am humbled that anyone would even think to do it," Ebert wrote, "but I am also grateful."

Less than forty-eight hours after that post, Ebert lost his long battle with cancer, but James has made it clear the film will still be completed. Thursday evening, James posted on the Twitter feed for the film, named after Ebert's memoir "Life Itself," saying: "We are devastated. But we will continue. We will finish the film."

Reports on the film's production suggest James and his crew were very much aware of Ebert's declining health and shot as much footage with him as possible in the final months of his life. An unnamed source attached to the project told the Hollywood Reporter, "We all knew it was imminent, as sad as it is."

It's fitting that James is bringing "Life Itself" to the screen, as Ebert was a fan and supporter of his work. In his review of James's breakout film "Hoop Dreams," Ebert wrote, "A film like 'Hoop Dreams' 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."

Martin Scorsese is serving as an executive producer on "Life Itself," along with screenwriter Steve Zaillian. Garrett Basch, who is co-producing the film, released a statement, saying, "On behalf of the filmmakers, our thoughts are with Chaz Ebert and the Ebert family. This is a terrible loss for the film community and for us."

James and his producers have yet to make a distribution deal for theatrical release of "Life Itself," but CNN has purchased the television rights. The film is expected to debut in 2014.