A few weeks before he passed away, Roger Ebert emailed director Ramin Bahrani some questions for an interview about his new movie, "At Any Price." As it turned out, they were the last questions Ebert asked a filmmaker. The results have now been published at RogerEbert.com, but even better than the interview itself is a very personal letter written by Bahrani to Ebert on the news of his death. Ebert was an early and frequent champion of Bahrani, giving each of his last four movies four star reviews and calling him "the new great American director."
Bahrani's letter reveals that the two corresponded regularly over email and had built a strong friendship, and that even with all of his critical success, Bahrani had recently considered quitting filmmaking, and maybe would have done it, if not for Ebert:
"I made my first film in total isolation with non-actors and a nickel. It miraculously found its way to Venice, Sundance, and tiny art-house audiences. But then you came, held the door wide open and asked the mass of people to look. You changed everything for me, my films and my future.
Yet despite the success of my first three films, I found myself in a dark place. After 'Goodbye Solo,' I thought about giving up filmmaking. So few people seemed to care about cinema. One of my havens during that time was your essays, blogs and reviews. You’ve always had the ability to cut right to the heart of the matter. Your reviews were never bogged down in adolescent fanfare or stuffy intellectualism. You were wiser than that. You wrote about the most complex films in simple and direct ways that anybody could understand. This is a rare talent that reminds me of John Ford’s cinema... With each new film I make I say to myself: This film must live up to Roger’s standards and strive towards what you saw in me."
Bahrani goes on to answer all of Ebert's questions, including at least one, I suspect, he would have avoided if it came from anyone else, on the plot synopsis and title of his next project ("99 Homes," about a man's journey into "the heart of the corrupt housing industry"). I'm glad to know that we didn't lose a great American director and that he's got more projects coming soon.
Read more of "Ebert's Last Interview: A Letter From Ramin Bahrani."