PELHAM, N.Y. -- Patrons of the Pelham Picture House were treated to an advance screening on Tuesday, July 1, of a documentary about a man who loved movies more than most.
"Life Itself" is the semiautobiographical story of Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert, known best for his work with fellow critic Gene Siskel on their show, "At the Movies."
The documentary follows the Illinois native's last months after battles with various cancers, which left him with half a jaw, unable to walk, speak or eat on his own, while also looking back at his life from childhood forward.
Despite his tragic circumstances, Ebert approaches the documentary and his life with a smile and an unwavering thumbs-up.
Devastatingly poignant at some points and lighthearted at others, the film ran the audience through the gamut of emotions, ultimately concluding with a palpable feeling of relief and joyful peace.
A Q&A and discussion were led after the film by the Picture House’s new critic-in-residence, Marshall Fine, with guests Eric Kohn, chief film critic and a senior editor for Indiewire, and Joshua Rothkopf of Time Out NY.
The three critics discussed Ebert's legacy and shared memories of meeting him. They touched particularly on his progressive embrace of the Internet, which paved the way for anyone to participate in film criticism.
"Movies are the reflection of the world around us," Fine said. "The critic's job is to point that out to other people."
"Roger was a friend first and foremost," Kohn said. "When I got my start writing in Chicago, he was beyond accessible and friendly."
Kohn shared a story about how he accidentally sat in Ebert's chair in the screening room and how Ebert let him sit with him and his wife, Chaz, during the movie.
Rothkopf also shared a story of interacting with Ebert, though it was via social media. Days before the Cannes Film Festival, Ebert sent a message to Rothkopf via Twitter, notifying him he would be unfollowing him for the duration of the festival as not to read any spoilers.
"The day after the festival, he went right back to following me," he said.
The next advance screening will be of "Boyhood," followed by a Q&A with Fine and producer John Sloss on Wednesday July 9, at 7 p.m.