Magnolia Pictures gets on board for “Life Itself”

The distributor has acquired the U.S. theatrical, VOD and home entertainment rights to Steve James' doc about the life of late film critic Roger Ebert (pictured), Life Itself.
February 5, 2014

Distributor Magnolia Pictures has acquired the U.S. theatrical, VOD and home entertainment rights to Steve James’ documentary about film critic Roger Ebert (pictured), Life Itself.

Produced by Kartemquin Films and Film Rites in association with KatLei Productions, the film premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival and will air on CNN later in the year.

James signed on for the project two years ago after screenwriter Steven Zaillian and his producing partner Garrett Basch optioned Ebert’s 2011 memoir of the same name and approached the director to turn it into a doc.

The film recounts the late critic and television personality’s days as school newspaper hero, his battle with alcoholism, his work as Chicago Sun-Times critic, his tempestuous friendship with Siskel & Ebert colleague Gene Siskel, his marriage to his wife Chaz and his 11-year battle with thyroid cancer. James also spent four months filming with Ebert prior to his death last April.

“I have the feeling that most film critics have not had such adventuresome lives,” James told realscreen in a recent interview about the film. “We tend to think of most film critics – rightly or wrongly – as spending an inordinate amount of time in dark rooms and sitting down to write. Roger, of course, did all that but he also managed to have quite a varied life experience along the way.”

Life Itself is among the 12 films set to screen at Roger Ebert’s Film Festival – or Ebertfest – which runs from April 23 to 27 in Champaign and Urbana, Illinois.

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

Life Itself was produced by Zak Piper for Kartemquin Films and Garrett Basch for Film Rites, and was executive produced by 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.

The deal was negotiated for Magnolia by SVP of acquisitions Dori Begley with Cinetic Media on behalf of Kartemquin, Film Rites, KatLei and CNN Films.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor-in-chief and content director for Realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to Realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.