“Life Itself,” Steve James’ documentary about the life and work of Roger Ebert, will be heading to the Cannes Film Festival in May. The movie premiered to strong reviews and great emotions at Sundance in January, but the Cannes version will be slightly different, including a new section devoted to — what else? — Ebert’s long history on the Croisette. The version released in theaters later this year will also include the new footage. (Note: this sentence said earlier that the new version would be shown on Wednesday night at Ebertfest. The version shown at Ebertfest will be the Sundance cut. Criticwire regrets the error.)
In addition to attending the festival for decades, Ebert wrote a brief an evocative history of his own experiences called Two Weeks in the Midday Sun. It’s unfortunately out of print, but small chunks of it were reused in Ebert’s memoir, Life Itself, and passages are reprinted in “Memories of Cannes Past,” which is still available on his site. It’s a wonderful read, a wry evaluation of the delirious and sometimes maddening atmosphere of the world’s largest film festival, and a reminder that even Ebert had to please his employers as well as himself.
It sounds like great fun to cover the Cannes Film Festival. It is one of those events, like the Super Bowl, Wimbledon, or the Kentucky Derby, that comes cloaked in its own legend. But if the Super Bowl were two weeks long, that would be more like Cannes. I have in my hand the first issue of Screen International, fresh from the presses, the daily English-language newspaper of Cannes, and it is 158 pages long. Most of the pages are given over to ads for movies that will be shown here, in and out of the competition, and as I riffle through them my annual case of gnawing insecurity begins to form. I will not be able to see more than a fraction of these films. I will miss some of the good ones. I will waste my time at the bad ones. I will never be able to find all of the stars and all of the directors I should interview, and if I do succeed, say, in tracking down someone really interesting like Barbara Hershey or Dusan Makavejev, my editors will want to know why I didn’t have lunch with Elizabeth Taylor.
Actually, I’d like to know why he didn’t have lunch with Elizabeth Taylor as well.