Life Itself is a 2014 American biographical documentary film about film critic Roger Ebert, directed by Steve James and produced by Zak Piper, Steve James and Garrett Basch. The film is based on Ebert's 2011 memoir of the same name. It premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and was an official selection at the 67th Cannes Film Festival. The 41st Telluride Film Festival hosted a special screening of the film on August 28, 2014. Magnolia Pictures released the film theatrically in the United States and simultaneously via video on demand platforms on July 4, 2014.
On December 2, 2014, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that the film was 1 of 15 films shortlisted in the Documentary Feature category for the 87th Academy Awards, but it was not nominated. It was also nominated for two News & Documentary Emmy Awards, winning the award for Outstanding Editing: Documentary & Long-Form.
The film makes use of footage and interviews with American film critic Roger Ebert during the final months of his life interspersed with interviews of his friends, colleagues, and family including: Chaz Ebert (his wife), Martin Scorsese, Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, and Ava DuVernay, among others. The film features clips from Ebert's popular television show with Gene Siskel, including outtakes, and their many appearances on shows like The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and Late Night with David Letterman. The film also explores the relationship between Siskel and Ebert, Roger's friendship with Russ Meyer and their collaboration on Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, as well as how Roger ultimately came to transcend film criticism to become an influential cultural voice.
On September 7, 2012, a film adaptation of the 2011 memoir Life Itself was first announced by Ebert on Twitter: "Whoa! My memoir has been optioned for a doc by Steve James (Hoop Dreams), with Martin Scorsese and Steven Zaillian as exec producers."
Steve James said: "That’s what made me want to do the movie: the way in which his life had this extraordinary desire for adventure and then, of course, he did his share of suffering and soldiering on. And all of that informed the kind of critic he became. It informed his reviews. It informed everything about who he was and what we came to collectively love about him."
On April 4, 2013, following Ebert's death, the filmmakers expressed their condolences and promised to finish the film. On November 20, 2013, an Indiegogo campaign was launched to raise money for the film. Over $150,000 was raised.
Locations seen in the film include the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool, the Old Town Ale House, the Chateau Marmont, and Hotel Splendid.
On January 18, 2013, CNN Films announced that it had acquired the rights to air Life Itself on television. It premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Magnolia Pictures released the film theatrically in the US on July 4, 2014. Dogwoof released the film in the UK on November 14, 2014. The film aired on CNN January 4, 2015.
Life Itself has received universal acclaim from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rating of 97% from 185 critics, with an average rating of 8.4/10; the general consensus states: "Rich in detail and warmly affectionate, Life Itself offers a joyful yet poignant tribute to a critical cinematic legacy." On Metacritic, the documentary has a score of 87 out of 100, based on 35 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".