WEEI>On Demand>>Kirk Minihane - Steve James

Kirk Minihane - Steve James

Jul 11, 2014|

Kirk interviews Steve James director of Hoop Dreams and a new documentary about Roger Ebert.

Transcript - will not be 100% accurate

On October 21 1994 almost twenty years ago Roger Ebert wrote a review of hoop dreams that. Led me to go see it in the movie their love of the people in the -- through the first paragraph. Of that review the final two words and -- life itself there was you know won the all time great glowing reviews and I think my guess too. Directed the Roger Ebert doctor Richard great documentary just came out life itself it's available on demand that's right saw last week. We're probably agree with me to a large extent that that slight change that the data every -- came on the Siskel and Ebert refuted Steve joins us today how are you Steve. Is that accurate description major career go from one place to the next place once Siskel and -- talk. I went from about a went from not having a career. That held that -- I mean. Rogers review I mean you have to understand that I had been a fan of his. For several years up until then when I moved to Chicago and in 85. So almost nine years earlier. You know I've been reading him regularly use might go to film critics so for him to say that about a coal mine was just you know -- spiritual. So whether the relationship. Starts August he writes that review and I remember watching Siskel and Ebert talking about. The movies I think we're Ebert had it is is number one movie that year is that right in 94. He did and top ones of the decade right in the nineties. Well actually it was the top one. -- honest I what did you say I was gonna watch you and so what was what was your relationship like with him all the way to sort of the beginning of the conversation of doing this documentary. Well that the it was a close race it like going back to ninety. For say 94 killed whatever 2000 knowing that. Well that. Yeah the front of the funny thing is is that Roger and I didn't talk much at all -- we had a we have friendly cordial professional relationship you know we're both here in Chicago but we didn't hang out. We weren't buddies I would see him at public events here and there and it was always very friendly but you know I never thought that I could have. Much more of a relationship that because he was some -- -- -- filmmaker so for me it was more it was more of the way in which C. Continued to support my work over the years. He continued to write eloquently. When when talking about my films and and liked them which I was very grateful to and so but I didn't yeah I didn't really have speculation that I think can. It's you know it actually ended up being a benefit. To doing this Belmont would have loved to have had that relationship but no that was possible but if it really ended up being. A benefits of the making of the film because I wasn't a friend that was beholden to Roger in any way really other than the fact that I wouldn't have made the film had -- Not had you know a degree of course of admiration for who we wasn't what he's accomplished. Stop the process begin when did you start shooting this so hoop dreams you shot I think 25300. Hours straight is -- -- right. So for this when did you start how many hours did you sure what was sort of the process of of filming this documentary. Right -- -- -- shot for about four and a half the year right we did not do that with this film with Roger it was more like four months. Because. Again what we started we did not expect that itself was then. Such decline that he wouldn't live to see the film completed that wasn't a motivating factor in starting with bill but that's what happened and so performance indoor building. You know he passed away which of course. You know was a tremendous loss to so many people and the -- culture. And so you know I knew that what I wanted to do was to build his daily life over the course of a year. And then while I was doing that to conduct interviews with people who were important to telling this story. And all that did happen that. But it just it happened was far less from Roger that I originally anticipated. The did the did. Ebert you got I mean I read the book you know life itself and -- was obviously huge either fan to begin to grow up in Massachusetts or get his movie yearbook every year -- -- and -- every weekend and I was just I was and it was a film guys kid. -- a sports -- that was a film as a kid still big -- -- he was the guy. For me so I saw you were doing this I was fascinated by and I -- like I said I've talked about the radio all week it's great he did -- he had a home run it's a great documentary. But you know let's find who's who's really well done. What was it was it seems to me just did not know Roger from reading Rodrigue over the years and Roger -- river to be subject of the documentary he would absolutely wanted to be. Warts and all and -- and you know obviously it's it's you like you can tell you like Roger -- what people like Roger but it's not one of these documentaries where. You know it is a total fluff piece I mean there are warts on their in their shoulders. Felt absolutely -- and I and you're right I think Roger absolutely didn't want that either he wanted it would've wanted to see a film on him that would be the kind of -- he'd want to be on -- But just you know. Which is to present a three dimensional portrait that person. And and that's what I endeavor to do and like you say though I mean I my affection for Roger certainly comes through in the movie frankly it would have done themselves. If I didn't. Feel that affection towards them admire him because he had done too much. From my career. If I read the memoir and thought she disguised kind of a jerk reality again you know and -- abducted interest in this life. I would've made the -- Because somebody just stepped away from it and said you know good luck with that if anybody wants to make that well but. So so clearly I I needed to -- For him and -- section -- -- -- -- wanna do it which it did but it's like to say it it didn't I did didn't prevent me from wanted to show. The fall of man and take full measure of him because that's what made him so interest thing and made him makes him a worthy -- subject. It does seem to me it is somebody's you know senior films that. Whether it's William gates -- -- three -- here -- -- -- mom her Boeing AG you're willing -- brother or Stevie or now Roger Ebert seems to me from your doctor military point of view it's important that you have. Some affection for the subject is that is that fair. Absolutely. Every L Rogers says that the beginning of the movie that. The movies -- -- machine to generate sympathy you know famous quote from him but I put right up front. And for me there's no better definition of what the movies should aspire to be. -- and oftentimes falls short of but. But when they do achieve that. That the glory of a great movie in my view and I I think it especially applies. To documentary because we're dealing with real people's lives. In documentary and so I think it's it you know he put two words something that I felt all my career but never could articulate what she did. Which is. That I I'm Michael has always -- to try to help you understand people and sometimes very difficult people. Sometimes people that have done terrible things. But my goal -- to have you understand them. Not sit in judgment of them not so. Offer excuses for bad behavior or apologize for bad behavior not try to do that but I do want you to understand them. And and so that's always been important. Part of deciding to do a movie and what. Does -- my guess would be yes you'd obviously know better than me -- -- ever feel particularly we do in this like this even when -- You know in a house like. Like the AG house for the struggling there's no electricity they're doing this or you're in the hospital with Roger Ebert and his wife he's getting that's suction do you ever feel like. Jesus and why why am I in here you know why should I be -- here is that an enormous via a battle I would think you use you must deal with. Yes no you're right I mean I think one of the hardest things there are some things I love about documentary. Filmmaking I could go on and on and on about what I love about it. This the hardest thing about it is is that in the movies that I do and it's -- for a lot of filmmakers. But I'll just speak for myself in the movies that I do. Where I'm standing. A lot of time with people and getting to know them. In a way that that goes beyond just profiling someone. The hardest thing is when. Bad things happened to them or struggles. You there are times when you do feel like I'm you know I'm just apparently -- Capturing this this drama of their lives but it still lives and for me it's a bill. And yeah of course you know and no one in that position and failed to recognize. That trauma. Is at the heart of what makes for compelling movie. So if you if you did a documentary about someone that nothing ever happened do. It would wouldn't be a terribly interest in itself. So. You don't sometimes feel that way and the -- wave grappling with that is is that by my hope is to always. Feel like I got all of the -- today that there are times when I. Stop the camera and there's times when I've. Not gotten hooked on certain things I was happy not to for instance. Rogers. I mean there was no camera there document that and even though I went down. -- told me to come down after passage to the power we have as to where he was his body was flying in the chapel I took the camera. But I never got it out of the bag because it never felt right to do but I think that's why. Get back to the empathy thing I think that's part of the wave which I deal with with being hit with being in a position to capture very difficult thing to people's lives. That's -- take its so. Has so crucial and vitally important that what the film does is not hopefully. Makes you feel like that this person has been exploited but that they've been understood. And that then that -- at people level because to me that's the only way. I can rationalize some of the things about you know I've been in the position themselves. I look at the the definitive documentary is sort of three love stories. Newspapers Siskel. And Chad Smith sort of the way I look at the way -- blew up -- mean as you obvious season newspaperman. You know obviously -- came in later his life and sort of changed his life. But you know for me and maybe it's because it's when I grow up and that's the thing I associates that with the most. To me that that the parts of the movie I enjoyed the most were the Siskel stuff but I feel like this probably a documentary. They Iran itself. Siskel and the British certificates it's a fascinating to dine out yet to the fascinating dynamic. Yet could easily made just built on that. I feel like we do it justice yes I agree. And and but you're right it's the most it's the most entertaining. Part of the film without question. But it's and it's even moving at the end when moments Siskel. But you know it's like. I mean Roger there were so many aspects is like that I felt estimating. As well and when you talk about -- stories those three are definitely. A qualified but you I think you could also add in there. A lot. Of this city Chicago. Right true right -- still absolutely right. And you cadet in the air really ultimately a lot of light because I think ultimately what all those. Love that up to is is -- Profound love living life. Was a great does that grade -- -- is a great Ben -- quote -- -- -- some sort of his friends tells that. In the stories of Bradley pitches Ebert numerous times over the years right Ebert -- -- -- with a wanna learn new street's fears is that the -- -- -- that's a great idea. -- It is it just is it is a pure film review army talk -- the guy who obviously won the Pulitzer but I mean. You know he was you don't think defense sometimes I think the TV might have hurt you get into that as well where. Directed you almost forget what a great writer Ebert was in the almost -- learn it again at least I did as an adult. What's he wasn't able to go on television anymore he's -- -- blogging more -- and I fault my Twitter obviously. You forgot this guy is just flat out great right there. That's right yes you're you're exactly right I think that -- the TV show. Gave him enormous power. And and contributed mightily I think that don't culture -- I can't begin to tell you the number of film reviews of this movie. Or articles that people have written about this movie since it's come out. Where the first paragraph it's about how they grew up watching Siskel Ebert and it made them wanna be a movie critic for example what was movies. Somewhat -- played enormous role in a very positive -- I think you're right it was like it wasn't until he could no longer be on television. That he kind of got back at least in the public mind it would riding along. Adult court in and in the public mind. Are every connection with him as as a writer and I think what made Roger's such a great writer. Wasn't that he was the biggest -- around he's not and it wasn't didn't see any certainly get right in the most intellectual fashion I think that was one of the virtues. He wrote in a very straightforward. Elegant. Simple concise. And personal style and I think those of the hallmarks of his writing. That that that did set him apart from. Most if not all the contemporary. It's funny is they get the feeling that there watching this -- Cisco have been more open about. His battle he was dying that in a weird way maybe this film never gets made I feel that you know maybe eager. Want to be more open about it because it you know I forgive -- forget he said it in the movie maybe was -- That you know he was so hurt and so upset by. Not knowing really during the process that he felt like he was never going to hide that provoke people you loved. Well I think you're right it is chest that says that meant the most direct quote -- -- pretty good there for everything and obviously good enough that we. Com. You know I think you're right in that and that's -- that was that that was that connection that you've made it about thinking about his own illness should it come. But I also think that it's more in Rogers nature. As -- You know I think you. Hope you get this some from the film visit Roger was just a more open. Embracing kind of person and critics that change I mean I think part of what fueled their creative. Alchemy was defective -- was a much more cool customer. I'm much more by nature analytical kind of -- looking at -- not that Roger didn't have analytical powers he had tremendous belt powers but he tended to right from his heart more. Then from his head and and I saw in that way I think that Roger might have found himself in this place anyway because. I think that. This sharing of all the he went through with field. Was always something that felt like it was for us who were reading it and following it not for him to say hey look at me. You know. CCC. -- never felt selfish to me you know maybe that's because I was a fan of it maybe some people look at that thing go insists. You know got to be in the limelight even with the ailments but I've never looked at it that way and I know that a lot of people probably most people who read. You know didn't look at it that way to citizenship to more open person team was just always very private person. One quick non. Like itself question is up but three subject you've got. Howard gates AG in -- doing today. Well about that aren't answered quickly well I was yeah BB CB is. Is he I've lost touch with them and I don't think that this situation is great -- in my state that to them for many many years but have lost touch with them. But -- William gates and electorate see things are going well. Our great -- right -- I appreciate your time I really do great documentary. Thank you that's life itself the director Steve James it's available on demand now like for Roger -- must watch you should definitely. What's that if you get a chance.

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