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9b57301-3.cachedI 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.


May Film Recommandations



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.

Four Stars


8–18 May: The funki­est and most fun fest­iv­al of the year is back for anoth­er run at the Para­mount.


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.


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