Twenty-five years ago this fall, as a scribe for The Flint Journal, I was immersed in the unlikely rise of Michael Moore’s documentary about Flint, Roger & Me, to national prominence. The film made for great copy, especially as our readers were so polarized over it. (Much of their hatred for Moore seemed to subside once he turned his camera to other subjects and GM’s corporate betrayal of Flint was duplicated, as he had warned, by other perpetrators in other locales.)
One of the first champions of Roger & Me was the legendary critic Roger Ebert, who highly praised Moore’s work during its early showings at film festivals. Gaining the blessing of Roger Ebert was gold to a moviemaker: his weekly “At the Movies” show with his wonderfully matched partner, Gene Siskel, was practically appointment television, and his print reviews in the Chicago Sun-Times were widely consumed.
I am reminded of Ebert, who died in 2013, because the Flint Institute of Arts is showing Life Itself, a documentary about him, in the Friends of Modern Art film series November 28-30. Although I own some of Ebert’s books and continue to read his reviews, the most interesting part of his life stemmed from personal adversity. In 2006, cancer of the thyroid and salivary glands necessitated the removal of his lower jaw, costing him the ability to speak.
It was then that his influence spread beyond what he thought of the latest multiplex fare. Just because he could not speak, Ebert had not lost his voice, and he became an inspiration to those who suffered elsewhere. His blog became more than just cinematic commentary, and we learned more about the man himself.
Life Itself, directed by Steve James (maker of the acclaimed documentary Hoop Dreams) and based on Ebert’s printed memoir of the same name, employs vintage footage of and new interviews with Ebert as well as his friends and family: his wife Chaz, and filmmakers Martin Scorsese, Errol Morris, and Werner Herzog, among others.
The November FIA film slate includes two other nonfiction titles. Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, playing November 7-9, is a Mike Myers-directed documentary about the Hollywood super-agent of the title. The Trip to Italy, coming November 21-23, is a comic travelogue with actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon on a meal-filled journey (a follow-up to a previous FOMA series selection, The Trip).
November 14-16, the museum presents A Most Wanted Man, a spy thriller based on John la Carre’s novel, which served as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s farewell to the screen.
All FIA screenings are at 7:30pm Fridays and Saturdays and 2pm Sundays. Tickets are available at the door: $6 general admission, $5 for FIA members, and $4 for FOMA members. For more details, visit flintarts.org. ♦