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'Life Itself' among top documentary premieres at upcoming Sundance Film Festival

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"The purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize with other people…For me the movies are like a machine that generates empathy." ~Roger Ebert

A new documentary film "Life Itself" from director Steve James ("Hoop Dreams") based on Ebert's memoir of the same name, recounts his fascinating and flawed journey—from politicized school newspaperman, to Chicago Sun-Times movie critic, to Pulitzer Prize winner, to television household name, to the miracle of finding love at 50, and finally his “third act” as a major voice on the Internet when he could no longer physically speak.

"Life Itself" is among the top documentary premieres at the upcoming Sundance Film Festival beginning Thursday, January 16, 2014 in Park City, Utah.

Click on the slide show to see a list of the upcoming festival's documentary premieres.

Life Itself
Life Itself Sundance Film Festival

Life Itself

Director Steve James ("Hoop Dreams") has based his documentary "Life Itself" on Roger Ebert’s memoir, which chronicles his fascinating and flawed journey—from politicized school newspaperman, to Chicago Sun-Times movie critic, to Pulitzer Prize winner, to television household name, to the miracle of finding love at 50, and finally his “third act” as a major voice on the Internet when he could no longer physically speak. 

The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz
The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz Sundance Film Festival

The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz

Award-winning documentary filmmaker Brian Knappenberger weaves together home video footage and anecdotal interviews to paint a dynamic portrait of Aaron Swartz in 'The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz'

The film weaves tender moments from his Swart’s childhood years, together with his milestones as a prolific contributor to the internet community. It presents audiences with an intimate look at Aaron’s involvement in RSS and Reddit, his increased interest in political advocacy and the controversial actions he allegedly took in downloading nearly four million academic articles from the online service JSTOR.

To Be Takei
To Be Takei Sundance Film Festival

To Be Takei

Jennifer M. Kroot's documentary "To Be Takei" examines actor George Takei's journey from a childhood spent in Japanese-American internment camps to actor-turned-activist.  The film reveals the ways that racism affected him well into his early acting career, where he played stereotypical Asian stock characters in film and television show, as well as his recent vocal advocacy for gay rights and marriage equality and current status as an internet humorist.

Happy Valley
Happy Valley Sundance Film Festival

Happy Valley

Director Amir Bar-Lev's "Happy Valley" is a "parable of guilt, redemption, and identity crisis for a small town caught in the glare of the national spotlight."

The film examines the firestorm of controversy surrounding longtime Penn State Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky's trial and conviction on charges of child sex abuse.

Mitt
Mitt Sundance Film Festival

Mitt

Greg Whiteley's documentary "Mitt" offers a candid view of the private moments of the former presidential contender. The film invites the audience into the room with Mitt Romney and his tight-knit family during his two recent attempts to gain the presidency.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball
The Battered Bastards of Baseball Sundance Film Festival

The Battered Bastards of Baseball

Chapman and Maclain Way’s "The Battered Bastards of Baseball" is an energetic telling of one of baseball’s great, unheralded stories. When Portland, Oregon, lost its longtime minor-league affiliate, Bing Russell—who briefly played ball professionally before enjoying a successful Hollywood acting career—bought the territory and formed a single-A team to operate outside the confines of major-league baseball.

Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger
Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger Sundance Film Festival

Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger

Academy Award nominated filmmaker Joe Berlinger returns to the Sundance Film Festival for the sixth time with a mesmerizing and complex account of crime and corruption. Utilizing this past summer's sensational trial against Bulger as a springboard to explore corruption within the highest levels of law enforcement. Embedded for months with retired FBI agents, Massachusetts state police, victims, lawyers, gangsters, journalists, and federal prosecutors, Berlinger scrutinizes Bulger’s relationship with the FBI and Department of Justice—an interaction that allowed him to reign over a criminal empire for decades.

Freedom Summer
Freedom Summer Sundance Film Festival

Freedom Summer

Award-winning documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson captures the volatile months of the summer of 1964 through remarkable period footage and the firsthand testimonies of volunteers who were transformed by their time in Mississippi, where locals refused to end segregation, underscored by the systematic exclusion of African Americans from the political process. In response, Robert Moses of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee developed a campaign to bring a thousand volunteers—primarily enthusiastic young white supporters—to the state to encourage voter registration, provide much-needed education, and convene a more representative delegation to attend the Democratic National Convention.

Finding Fela
Finding Fela Sundance Film Festival

Finding Fela

Academy Award winner Alex Gibney's documentary chronicles the African music scene of the 1970s and ’80s—and the life of activist/musician Fela Kuti.  After quickly taking his native Nigeria by storm, the pioneering musician’s confrontational Afrobeat sound soon spread throughout the continent and beyond, even as it made determined enemies of the repressive Nigerian military regime. A resurgence of interest in Kuti's work has posthumously re-popularized Kuti, culminating in the massively successful Broadway show FELA!, written by Jim Lewis and directed by Tony Award winner Bill T. Jones.

Last Days in Vietnam
Last Days in Vietnam Sundance Film Festival

Last Days in Vietnam

Emmy Award–winning independent documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy documents the chaotic final days of the Vietnam War when the North Vietnamese Army closes in on Saigon as South Vietnamese resistance crumbles. American diplomats and soldiers confront a moral quandary: obey White House orders to evacuate only U.S. citizens, or risk being charged with treason and save the lives of as many South Vietnamese citizens as they can. With the clock ticking and the city under fire, heroes emerge as a small handful of Americans take matters into their own hands.

We Are The Giant
We Are The Giant Sundance Film Festival

We Are The Giant

Former war-correspondent-turned-filmmaker Greg Barker explores the Arab Spring uprisings through a series of insightful activist portraits.  Since late 2010, more than a dozen nations have experienced popular uprisings that have collectively been called the Arab Spring. Protests, buoyed by predominantly young participants and social-media organizing, have exposed repression and led to regime changes. What does it mean to take part in a collective action that has the potential to unseat dictators and bring previously undreamt-of freedoms to a people?

This May Be The Last Time
This May Be The Last Time Sundance Film Festival

This May Be The Last Time

Native American filmmaker Sterlin Harjo feature-length documentary, explores the disappearance of his grandfather in 1962 and the origins of the Seminole communities ancient songs of faith and hope which they sang while searching for him. Interviewing everyday people and the faith keepers of his tribe with his delicate touch and gentle inquiry, Harjo traces the creation of their songs, which commemorate a great time of upheaval from their homeland when United States policy dictated their relocation. Along the way, he learns that his tribe’s singing style is tied to traditions that originated in Scotland, Appalachia, and the experiences of enslaved African Americans.

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