Family, Friends Recall Ebert’s Spirit
By Jeff Bossert
A year after Roger Ebert’s death, filmgoers in Champaign have been offered a glimpse into his life story with a new film.
The 16th annual Ebertfest opened Wednesday night with the screening of ‘Life Itself’, the documentary named after the film critic’s 2011 memoir.
It looks at areas of his life and career, including relationships with wife Chaz Ebert and fellow critic Gene Siskel.
Chaz sais even as his health seriously declined, their life together took on a kind of normalcy. In the post-film discussion, Ebert opened up about caring for her husband in his final months last year.
In addition to tracking Roger Ebert’s career as a film critic, Director Steve James’ film shows him going through rehab treatment and extended hospital stays.
But Chaz Ebert said because of their time together, and the spirit he maintained, she said she saw him much differently than others.
“In my eyes, Roger was so beautiful. The image that I have of him – even after the surgery- was just beautiful," she said. "Because when somebody is that beautiful on the inside, their outside looks beautiful as well.”
Also in the movie is a friendship that began on the University of Illinois campus more than 50 years ago. Sportswriter and author Bill Nack worked with Ebert at the Daily Illini in the 1960s, and was part of last night’s post-screening panel.
He sais Ebert’s reviews and other blog posts after losing the ability to speak were the best work he’d ever done.
“And I think that it was related to the fact that his writing improved as a blind man’s hearing will improve," he said. "He only had one way to express himself. And that was through the written word. And I think his writing – his style got deeper – he became more profoundly emotional – but not in a hysterical way – he just was more in touch with his emotions.”
And before the second day of his annual film festival gets under way, Roger Ebert and his ‘thumbs up’ trademark become a permanent fixture at the Virginia Theatre.
The $125,000 dollar bronze sculpture of the late critic’s likeness will be unveiled at noon Thursday.
‘Life Itself’ begins a theatrical run in July, but also will be part of the Cannes Film Festival in France next month.
Ebertfest continues through Sunday at the Virginia Theater in downtown Champaign.