Twenty years ago nobody had ever heard of Steve James. He had directed a few documentaries which few had seen, but he had just completed what would become the film that would make his career, the basketball documentary Hoop Dreams. Turns out he and the film would need a little push to get the deserved attention, and with a few words in a glowing review, Roger Ebert gave that push. Hoop Dreams would go on to win an Oscar for Best Documentary, with James calling Ebert the man who sparked his career. James would go on to have quite the storied career, directing such acclaimed documentaries as Head Case, Stevie, and The Interrupters.
It was only fitting that James would be the one to direct Life Itself, based on Ebert's memoir chronicling the career and relationships that defined the legendary film critic, writer, author, and television personality. It's a powerful film, one made more poignant by Ebert's ongoing battle with cancer while filming was taking place. It was a battle Ebert would ultimately lose, but James soldiered on and completed the movie as a lasting tribute to his friend.
My colleague Tim Gordon and I had a chance to sit down and talk with Steve James about Life Itself for our show, Addicted to Film. During our conversation he spoke about the influence Ebert had on him personally and professionally, how he dealt with Ebert's passing, what he learned about Ebert's relationship with Gene Siskel, and much more. Life Itself is in theaters now and available On Demand here. My review of the film can also be found here.