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Sundance Buy: Magnolia Grabs CNN Ebert Doc 'Life Itself'

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood February 4, 2014 at 7:16PM

The Wagner/Cuban Company’s Magnolia Pictures has acquired US theatrical, VOD and home entertainment rights to "Life Itself," Steve James' heart-tugging documentary about the life of Roger Ebert. The film brought audiences to tears at January's Sundance Film Festival as they grieved the loss last year of their beloved Chicago film critic after a long battle with cancer.
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Roger Ebert
Roger Ebert

The Wagner/Cuban Company’s Magnolia Pictures has acquired US theatrical, VOD and home entertainment rights to "Life Itself," documentarian Steve James' heart-tugging documentary about the life of Roger Ebert. The film brought audiences to tears at January's Sundance Film Festival as they grieved the loss last year of their beloved Chicago film critic after a long battle with cancer. James started filming before Ebert's health took a sudden dive, and stayed close to the critic in his last days.

Ebert championed James' "Hoop Dreams" at Sundance 20 years ago. James went on to direct "The Interrupters." "Life Itself" will likely hit theaters this summer, followed by an exclusive broadcast on CNN later this year, which also collaborated with Magnolia on the hit documentary "Blackfish."

Based on Ebert's memoir of the same name, "Life Itself" follows him from young newspaperman to loyal Chicago Sun-Times movie critic and Pulitzer Prize winner, through his sparring relationship with Sneak Preview/At the Movies partner Gene Siskel, who also succumbed to cancer too young. Ebert vowed to be transparent about his illness after Siskel kept his a secret.  The film also recounts Ebert's romance with Chaz, who he found at age 50, and how he found his voice on the Internet when he could no longer physically speak.

“Roger Ebert gets the tribute he deserves with 'Life Itself,'” states Magnolia President Eamonn Bowles. “Steve James has done a beautiful job capturing Roger's complexity and energy in a loving but wonderfully clear-eyed portrait.” 

“We’re delighted to re-team with Magnolia for another thoughtful film that will have a strong, lasting impact on all who see it," said Vinnie Malhotra, senior vice president of development and acquisitions for CNN Worldwide. "Together, we look forward to bringing Steve James' beautiful portrait of an American icon to audiences across all platforms.” 

Steve James directed LIFE ITSELF, which was produced by Zak Piper for Kartemquin Films and Garrett Basch for Film Rites, with executive producers Martin Scorsese, Steve Zaillian, Michael W. Ferro Jr., Justine Nagan and Gordon Quinn of Kartemquin Films, Kat White of KatLei Productions, Mark Mitten, and Vinnie Malhotra and Amy Entelis of CNN Films.

Read TOH's Sundance review here; video interview with James is here. 

This article is related to: Roger Ebert (1942-2013), Magnolia, Magnolia, Magnolia Pictures, Documentary, Documentaries, Steve James


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.