Sundance Q-and-A: Celebrating Roger Ebert and ‘Life Itself’
Published: January 20, 2014 12:01PM
Updated: January 20, 2014 12:00PM
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FILE - In this Jan. 12, 2011 file photo, Pulitzer Prize-winning movie critic Roger Ebert works in his office at the WTTW-TV studios in Chicago (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

When Chaz Ebert said “I wish Roger could be here tonight” at the premiere of “Life Itself,” she expressed a wish everyone in the 2014 Sundance Film Festival audience shared.

Everyone in attendance probably wished Roger could have been there -- because Roger would have loved this movie.

Director Steve James said in a Q-and-A after the film that the longtime Chicago film critic wanted the movie -- adapted from his 2011 memoir -- to be a complete portrait. When the Eberts contacted friends about granting interviews to James, there was one rule: “Be candid.”

Considering how often Ebert demanded the full story from the people he interviewed and reviewed, James said, “He couldn’t change the rules for himself. He had to allow full access.”

Chaz Ebert, Roger’s widow, said that Roger had written a note to give to James during editing, which read, “Show the man, not the icon.”

The movie received a thumbs-up not only from Chaz, but from Marlene Iglitzen, the widow of Roger’s longtime rival and TV partner Gene Siskel, who died in 1999.

Iglitzen said she believed Siskel would have loved the movie, too, but “of course, he would have wanted a little more of himself in it.”

The widows, who are as close as sisters (according to Chaz), did engage in a bit of pointed banter reminiscent of their husbands back in the day.

Chaz countered a comment made in the movie that Siskel was more elegant than Ebert.

“Gene was not more elegant than Roger,” Chaz declared.

Iglitzen’s reply was tart, diplomatic, but smiling: “It’s your night, Chaz.”

-- Sean P. Means