Biographies are hard. They’re hard to get into and they’re hard to make. And especially, they’re hard to make compelling. It all depends entirely on the material you have, whether the person was prominent on their own or not and more importantly, whether the person had any history worth getting into. Filmed biographies are especially complicated due to the talking head format, where you have to select carefully the people you want and the questions you want to ask in order to create the portrait you want to come out. You also always run the risk of subjectivity in your portrait. All portraits are inherently subjective, of course, but you still want to create something that fully conveys the nature of the person you are representing to the spectator.
In Life Itself, Steve James challenges himself to obtain a portrayal that comes close to Roger Ebert’s autobiography. Not only does he succeed, he manages to immortalize Roger in his beloved art form in a way that was probably beyond his wildest dreams. Ebert is probably already one of the most beloved icons of the film industry, an achievement that is made more staggering by the fact that the man himself was almost never involved in the making of movies himself. But Ebert made up for this in sheer passion for what movies were, what they could be and his significant contributions towards bridging the gap between those two places.