By Paula Bernstein | Indiewire November 21, 2013 at 9:33AM
"Life Itself," a feature documentary based on Roger Ebert's bestselling memoir of the same name, has launched a crowd funding campaign through Indiegogo with an innovative reward: backers of the film will receive a private streaming link to see the film (via VHX) in advance of its theatrical release, which is planned for early next year, along with an airing on CNN.
Steve James ("Hoop Dreams," "The Interrupters") will direct the film and Martin Scorsese will executive produce. As of this morning, the campaign had already raised more than $3,500 towards its $150,000 goal. "This movie is a love story really -- Roger's love for movies, for Chaz, and even in his own way, his love for Gene. Ultimately, though, it's a film about Roger's love for life itself," James wrote on the film's Indiegogo page.
The film, which began production in December 2012, will chronicle the late critic's life from his early days at the University of Illinois, to his time in Chicago where he became the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize, and to his years on television partnering with Gene Siskel, and finally, to his final years when he triumphed over his disabilities and cancer and found a voice via social media.
In fact, Ebert first announced the project on his Twitter account in September 2012, writing "I believe Steve James' "Hoop Dreams" is one of the greatest documentaries ever made, and my hopes for this [new documentary] are high." Ebert was the first to champion "Hoop Dreams," which he named one of the best films of the 1990s, along with Scorsese's "Goodfellas."
Any funds raised over the goal will go towards charitable causes, including The Ebert Foundation, and The Roger Ebert Film Studies Center at his alma mater, the University of Illinois (although it's worth noting that funder's contributions are not deductible as charitable contributions).
Backers who contribute $25 to the Indiegogo campaign will get to see see the documentary via a private stream. The idea behind the innovative backer perk was inspired by Ebert himself. The campaign page explains:
"We tried to think of perks that Roger would have loved. In keeping with Roger's identity as the most popular and influential critic, we are offering a private pre-theatrical streaming experience of the film as the central reward for our partners (you!) in the campaign. Everyone, everywhere will have the ability to support the film and participate in its actual live premiere for just $25.
"We are also offering a whole range of other perks to thank you for your involvement, including special advance filmmaker screenings, the ability to get a signed DVD for you AND the school or library of your choice, Skype sessions and workshops, signed memorabilia, and even a chance to have drinks and hear stories of Roger at an iconic Chicago bar."
Check out the campaign video below: