Film critic Roger Ebert announced on Twitter that his memoir, "Life Itself" (which is newly out in paperback, by the way), has been "optioned for a doc by Steve James ("Hoop Dreams") and Steven Zaillian, with Martin Scorsese as exec producer." Reached via email for a reaction, here's what Ebert told me:
"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."
Me too. It's an intriguing combination of filmmaker and subject. James is a quintessential Chicago director — of "Hoop Dreams" as well as last year's remarkable documentary "The Interrupters" — and Ebert is a quintessential Chicago icon. And Scorsese is, of course, one of Ebert's favorite filmmakers, not to mention the only one to date who's the subject of an entire volume of his criticism. In his foreword to "Scorsese by Ebert," Scorsese talks about "the personal connection" between the two men:
"We were both marked by our relationship with the Catholic Church, in which we had both been raised. His was the Irish church, mine, the Italian. But we had both, at one point in our young lives, aspired to the priestly vocation and we had both failed in that ambition… I'm not saying that that issue was the sole basis for the relationship that developed between Roger and me over the years. But it did establish an emotional contact point between us, a shared sub-aesthetic understanding, that enabled him to see, and appreciate, things in my movies that were perhaps not so obvious to other reviewers."
Their common backgrounds gave Ebert insight into Scorsese's movies; it will be interesting to see how much insight they give Scorsese into Ebert's life story. A full press release with more details should be coming shortly.