As probably the most celebrated and beloved film critic around, a man whose work has appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times for 45 years, who co-hosted “At The Movies” with Gene Siskel for almost 25, and who was the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize, it’s almost surprising that Roger Ebert has never been the subject of a movie himself. He’s had some limited involvement behind the scenes of other films — he wrote scripts for exploitations maestro Russ Meyer in the 1970s, but no one’s ever made a major film about Ebert.
But all that’s about to change, and with some serious talent involved. Ebert tweeted this morning that his memoir, “Life Itself,” which was published last year, and recently hit as a paperback, “has been optioned for a doc by Steve James (“Hoop Dreams“) and Steven Zaillian, with Martin Scorsese as exec producer” And Ebert has expanded on the news a little, telling Matt Singer at Criticwire “This dropped out of the blue. They say they have a good idea for an approach. I believe Steve James’ ‘Hoop Dreams’ is one of the greatest documentaries ever made, and my hopes for this are so high. I never thought of my book as a doc. I’m keeping hands off any involvement, such as with the screenplay, because I don’t want to be a third wheel. Whatever they do I will be fascinated.”
We’d certainly agree on his assessment of James (whose “The Interrupters” was one of the best films of last year), and having Zaillian, who will presumably produce through his Film Rites shingle, is a boon as well, to say nothing of Scorsese — who Ebert has always described as one of his favorite filmmakers, and who was the subject of the book “Scorsese by Ebert.” It’s clearly early days — there’s as yet no word if the film will be a straight-up biography of Ebert or something more wide-reaching about cinema, but either way it’s exciting news. We’ll bring you more news on the project as it comes in.