It’s been seven months since Roger Ebert passed away. A few of us had the honor to attend his funeral, which happened to be the very same day we were scheduled to launch his new website, RogerEbert.com. Out of respect to what Roger would have wanted, we went ahead with the launch as planned.
It’s a testament to Roger and his work that, as we expected, users are spending a lot of time exploring and searching his archived content—something they previously couldn’t do very easily. It’s also exciting that users are seeking out new reviews: Traffic is up 9% year-over-year with a unique visitor increase of more than 44%. I think Roger would be proud of that.
His spirit lives on with the cadre of talented writers who continue to produce top-notch reviews and other works for the site. The team includes some of the world’s preeminent film critics, many of whom Roger collaborated with before his death. They include Editor-in-Chief Matt Zoller Seitz (also of New York Magazine), Managing Editor Hank Sartin (formerly of Time Out Chicago), Susan Wloszczyna (formerly of USA Today), Glenn Kenny (formerly of Premier and MSN), and former Ebert Presents at the Movies co-hosts Christy Lemire and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky.
At the time of his death, in addition to his new website, Roger had another project in the works. He was actively collaborating with Academy Award-winning documentary film director Steve James (Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters) on a feature documentary based on his memoir, Life Itself.
Steve and Chicago production company Kartemquin Films are trying to raise $150,000 on the crowdfunding website Indiegogo.com to finalize post-production of the film. There are just nine days left to donate—I encourage you to check out the site and contribute to the project if it interests you. (Update: The filmmakers have extended the donation deadline to January 13, 2014.)
Roger was just as excited about this film as he was about the new website; he wanted it to happen, and as such, so do I. I crossed paths with Steve and the crew during the making of the movie, and given their history of success and Roger’s critical eye for identifying talent, I have great expectations for it.
Fans who contribute to the project can get rewards ranging from signed DVDs to meeting the filmmakers. At the highest donation levels, you can get a private, pre-theatrical screening of Life Itself with Steve and Roger’s wife, Chaz Ebert. If the project exceeds its fundraising goals, the rest of the money will be donated to charities, including The Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation and The Roger Ebert Center for Film Studies.
Kartemquin has also just announced that Life Itself will have its world premier at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival next month. All donors who give $25 or more will get the chance to watch a live stream of the film as it screens at Sundance on January 19, 2014. Afterward, contributors can participate in a live stream Q&A with the filmmakers and other people close to Roger.
Roger loved movies and he loved talking to fans about movies. He may not be here to review this final film, but I think he’d get a kick out of fans participating in it and getting to be part of a conversation about it. This film, like his writing, is his legacy. If you can’t donate, please spread the word. As Steve says, Roger belonged to all of us—we can help bring Life Itself to life, and see him at the movies one more time.