I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Roger Ebert inspired me to be a film reviewer. The free tickets were enough for that. I can’t even say that the Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago Sun-Times critic was my hero, although I won’t deny that I felt his influence as it seeped through every other reviewer’s sensibility across the world. His television presence (“Two thumbs up!”) didn’t seep into my consciousness in New Zealand either.
When I was managing the Paramount on Courtenay Place during the early 2000s, Ebert was just one of many reviewers whose responses I trawled through in my search for something to pin up on the boards at the front door. (Nowadays, cinemas just clip the Rotten Tomatoes percentages and leave it at that — no class, no style.) It was relatively late in his life that I came to admire, respect, follow and eventually idolise Ebert — after cancer had taken his jaw, his voice and nearly his life itself, but not his spirit, his talent or his — that word again — voice.
Life Itself is also the title of a documentary about Ebert (based on his own 2011 memoir) and is one of many must-see titles in this year’s Documentary Edge Festival, that annual event dedicated to non-fiction screen storytelling. The film is made by Steve James, who burst onto the scene 20 years ago with the game-changing Hoop Dreams, itself screening at the festival in a special anniversary edition.
Ebert’s unquenchable appetite for life — which only grew at the same time as his appetite for food was thwarted by cancer — became a powerful force in my life, as I saw the need for some minor personal rebuilding work of my own. His understanding and forgiveness (of his own transgressions, mostly), his prodigious memory and his respect for the adventures of his past, and that never-diminishing passion to keep growing, keep creating, keep promoting and keep on being read, dammit — that’s a hell of an inspiration right there.
And then there was the writing. His reviews were conversational and meandering — seemingly first draft and maybe they were — and he managed to conceal that impeccable newspaperman craft, but most importantly, for me, he never stopped caring about what a film was about — no matter how minor or major. He brought films to life on the page by always connecting them back to our life, our lives, and in the end to life itself.
The Documentary Edge Festival runs from 5 to 15 June at the Roxy in Miramar.[info]
May Film Recommandations
ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (Jim Jarmusch)
1 May: New Zealand Film Festival audiences who saw this last year may not have realised just how lucky they were. After the film had only a handful of appearances at Cannes, director Jarmusch personally approved the Kiwi screenings before it went into hibernation prior to cinema release 10 months later. There’s nothing more stylish in May.
8–18 May: The funkiest and most fun festival of the year is back for another run at the Paramount. 2014reelbrazil.co.nz
STAR WARS MARATHON
4 May: For one day only (“May the 4th be with you”, geddit?) all six of the current Star Wars live-action canon get a big-screen reunion at selected locations.
THE TRIP TO ITALY (Michael Winterbottom)
29 May: Just in time for this reviewer’s birthday is the sequel to The Trip, one of the most enjoyable buddy comedies in years. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon reunite with director Winterbottom to eat, bicker and do impressions in front of great landscapes and monuments.[/info]