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documentaries was they had intimate access, that they were honest, didn’t hide anything and they had complexity to them and he thought that if I am going to be a part of this I can’t have a different standard for myself. I have not normally done films about famous people. It is the first time I’ve done a biography, but he walked the walk and when you are famous there is generally a different level of candour that you are willing to share and understandably he acted as though he was not famous at all. He was just a guy who had this interesting life and was struggling with cancer. Audience: You said that you might have declined to do the project. Does that mean that someone was asking you to do this film or was it your idea? SJ: I wish I could say it was my idea but Garrett Basch, producer on the film, read the memoir, really liked it and thought it would be a great basis for a documentary and then put out an enquiry to Ebert’s agent and said what do you think about this? They weren’t discouraged but they didn’t say yes, they didn’t say no. Interesting, tell us more. They then reached out to me. I had not read Roger’s memoir and then read it, loved it and then said, yes, I would love to do this film. When I got to the end of the book I realized how it was a life that was important beyond being a film critic. It had this extraordinary journey of a life. that was what really hooked me, as well as he was an important person in the world of film. MbM: Thank you for making an amazing movie and a brilliant tribute to Roger. What has been the response of other famous film critics of the film? SJ: There are no other famous film critics (laughter). People refer to Roger as the beloved film critic. Honestly once the film was near completion and it was going to be premiered at Sundance and we had someone, a Press person, who was letting me know like which film critics were going to be reviewing the film, like Todd McCarthy of the Hollywood Reporter, and I thought that is great but then I thought I know Todd grew up in Chicago and he was eighteen years old when he met Roger, a snot-nosed film critic at the Sun-Times, and you could go down the line and the number of critics who were seeing this film and would review it, and they all knew Roger, some better than others, but they all knew the man. I suddenly got very fearful. Oh my God, this is why I like doing films about people that you have never heard of because I did not want film critics saying I know the man better than you, but fortunately it has rebounded to our benefit. They responded to the movie and I was actually really touched and moved and I know Chaz has been too by the way in which the film critics reviewed the movie. They said some nice things about the movie, but they started with a paragraph or two about what Roger Ebert meant to them or how they encountered Roger...they made it a very personal review about movies, about Roger, and then got around to talking about the movie. I think that is great. I mean I had no idea of his incredible reach until I made this film. Q: How was it for you after filming groups of people to be working with one character? Is it a thing you would want to do again or do you prefer filming groups of people? SJ: Most of the films I’ve done have been about individuals, there have been more than one in some cases, like The Interrupters there were primarily three subjects that we followed. Other films I’ve done, if they have had multiple characters, they still tend to be about individuals than about groups. So what was different about this for me was I knew that I was going to try and get my arms around an entire life of this man and that in some ways would mean a more traditional biographical film than what I have done in the past, but I also knew that I wanted to travel around in the present and see his life in the present and that was my approach to try to bond those two together. Q: Do you have a favourite critique of his? SJ: I think if you love Terrence Malick as a filmmaker then you should go and read Roger on Terrence. He loves Terrence Malick and I think he gets what is remarkable about his work. He is great on Herzog, he is great on Scorcese. He has been very kind to me over the years. I feel I’ve got insights to my own films from him, but I think one thing that was exciting for me was reading some of those earlier reviews that got him the Pulitzer starting in ’67, I mean right out the gate. I mean Roger was a fan of movies before he got that job, but he hadn’t written about movies and it is extraordinary to read some of those reviews. I mean Bonnie and Clyde, Cries & Whispers, Nashville, The Godfather. I mean just go back to some of those reviews And Blue Velvet, he went totally against the tide. The film was hailed as a masterpiece but he said ‘I don’t think so’ His problem with it was moral and ethical and he ended up being right about that film for the reasons he didn’t like it, now you may say that the reasons you didn’t like it, you make that choice yourself, but he really did believe that Isabella Rossellini was mistreated as an actress in the film and David Lynch had engaged by putting the actress out there in being naked, being ridiculed, in the movie. He gleaned that she must not have known what she was in for. When she wrote her autobiography some years later, that was exactly true.

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Profile for Brian Mills

Movies by Mills (December 2014)  

A magazine for discerning cinemagoers and filmmakers.

Movies by Mills (December 2014)  

A magazine for discerning cinemagoers and filmmakers.

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