Category Archives: Film

My Keynote at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival

Last week, I tweeted out that I had been asked to give a keynote speech at the Cannes Film Festival. In an attempt at humor, I made it sound as if it had been a last minute thing, when in fact I’ve known about it for months. The truth is that I had been approached to help set the stage for a full day event–one in which the MEDIA Program of the European Union would take stock of trends in the film business, with the goal of setting priorities for the future of the program. In any case, here it is. Thanks are due to Tara Roy, one of my Columbia students, who taped it for me. 

Ira Deutchman Keynote at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival from Ira Deutchman on Vimeo.

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Remembering Jonathan Demme

I heard the devastating news today that Jonathan Demme is no longer with us. I knew he had been ill, but the last time I saw him he looked like he was back to his normal self and seemed to be in quite good spirits. But then again, Jonathan always gave off the vibe of being in good spirits. I had the pleasure of working with him on two of his films, and then peripherally on two others, and in all that time he never treated me with anything but the utmost respect. 

Jonathan Demme (bottom) and me (top) at Sundance in the ’80s. I have no recollection who the other folks are.

I first met Jonathan shortly after the Cinecom team screened “Stop Making Sense” and we immediately decided we wanted to distribute it. The film had been financed by Warner Brother Records; from their perspective, it was merely a promotional film intended to broaden the appeal of Talking Heads. We saw the film differently, as Demme was already on our radar as someone we would love to work with. Yes, it was a great concert film, but the simplicity with which it captured a live performance and made it feel as immediate and exciting as if you were in the room–this was something new. This was pure cinema.

Jonathan was coming off of a few films that, while well received critically, had not exactly set the world on fire. Worse yet, he had just finished “Swing Shift,” a fairly big budget Hollywood movie he wasn’t all that pleased with, that tanked at the box office. The experience of “Stop Making Sense” seemed to him like a breath of fresh air at a time when his Hollywood stock was not exactly rising. Perhaps it was his publicity background kicking in, but he was unusually respectful of the work being done to market and distribute the film, and showered us with public praise when the film outperformed expectations.  (more…)

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Produced By Podcast

Here is a podcast I did with Kevyn Fairchild from the Producers Guild. The topic was “Roles and Future of Independent Film Producers”

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University of Michigan Screen Mavericks & Makers Announcement

Last month, an event was held at Lincoln Center in New York at which it was announced that my personal archive has been acquired by the University of Michigan for their Screen Mavericks and Makers Collection. I’m incredibly flattered to be part of this incredible archive which includes Orson Welles, Robert Altman, John Sayles and Alan Rudolph to date. The announcement included the fact that there will be a symposium and retrospective held at Cinetopia in Michigan and at Columbia University in New York in June of 2017. Below is the video of my speech at the event, explaining among other things, what my archive consists of and what I hope will become of it.

Here is the entire text of the press release:

Film producer, marketer Ira Deutchman donates archive to U-M Library Mavericks & Makers Collection

ANN ARBOR—The University of Michigan Library will welcome the papers of another film maverick to their growing collection of material that highlights visionaries in the genre of independent film.

Ira Deutchman announced Dec. 2 at the Lincoln Center in New York that he will donate his entire archive to U-M’s Screen Arts Mavericks & Makers collection.

Deutchman will be in good company—the popular U-M collection comprises the papers of indie greats including Orson Welles, Robert Altman, Alan Rudolph and John Sayles.

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TCFF Panel on the 40th Anniversary of “Nashville”

Here is a panel that was hosted at this year’s Traverse City Film Festival on the career of Robert Altman in honor of the 40th Anniversary of “Nashville.” Panelists include Kathryn Altman, Ron Mann, Geraldine Chaplin, Michael Murphy & yours truly. It was moderated by Phil Hallman of the University of Michigan. Enjoy!


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Equality Now Panel at TCFF

Among the many panels and Q&As that I participated in at this year’s Traverse City Film Festival was one entitled, “Equality Now.” It was meant to be both a celebration of the Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage and a discussion among the filmmakers who were involved with films that touched on LGBT issues. I was the moderator and the panel turned out to be quite illuminating (if I must say so myself) and even included some fireworks. Fortunately the panels were recorded for posterity, so here it is. I’ll post some others in the next few days…

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Onward…

Columbia FilmToday is my last day as Chair of the Film Program at Columbia University.

It’s been a great four years and I’m very proud of our accomplishments over that time.

The end of my chairmanship should not be much of a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. The position is a rotating one among faculty, and Columbia has very strict term limits. I’ve also mentioned it numerous times (albeit off-handedly) in recent writings and speeches. I’m pleased that my colleague Maureen Ryan will be the next Chair. She is more than capable of taking up the mantle and bringing the program to the next level.

Meanwhile, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be back to concentrating on teaching rather than administrating, back to producing and consulting on marketing and distribution of indie films, and perhaps paying more attention to this blog.

Stepping back has already given me the opportunity to think about things with a clearer head, and I share with you now some words that were part of my speech at this year’s Columbia University Film Festival in both New York and Los Angeles.

In the last few years, we’ve seen enormous shifts in the technology of what we do, in the ways in which audiences consume what we create and in the general perception of the value of our work. Some people, given what they read in various publications, might draw the conclusion that we’re heading toward a day when 12-year-olds with iPhones will be born with all the necessary skills to create works of art. Other reports would indicate that theatrical movie-going is dead and that TV has supplanted the movies as the main art form of the 21st century.

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In Defense of Twitter Reviews

This past week, I’ve been watching as various pundits and publications have been debating the pros and cons of Twitter reviews of movies. I’m more than a disinterested bystander, since I’ve been tweeting reviews of films for more than four years–at festivals, after watching screeners at home, and after seeing films at a commercial theatrical venue.

Movie TweeviewsAdditionally, many of you may not know that I run a web site called Movie Tweeviews, which is a curated stream of Twitter reviews. When I first started the site four years ago, I just thought it would be fun to pull together quick responses to films in real time, but I wasn’t interested in the mass public. I wanted to limit the stream to people whose opinions I respected. So, I invited some critics, exhibitors, distributors and filmmakers to contribute. These days, the stream is mostly me, but occasionally there are other voices on the site.

The debate about Twitter reviews began after an expression of distress by Cannes Film Festival head Thierry Fremaux. His beef is with the instant judgment that these reviews bring upon a film, which can easily poison its festival launch. The prime example was how quickly Gus Van Sant’s film was skewered on Twitter within minutes of the lights coming up at the Palais this year. (more…)

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Guest Blog: Tori Baker on Exhibitor/Distributor Price Fixing

CinemaConFor those of us who follow the politics of theatrical distribution in the United States, the recent controversy about Disney’s required terms for showing “The Avengers” struck a chord. The dynamics between exhibitors and distributors have always been fraught, and this is only the most recent example. John Fithian, the head of the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO), has publicly pushed back at Disney’s latest demands, but as Tori Baker of the Salt Lake Film Society points out, this is an issue that affects all exhibitors, not just the big chains. Her open letter to the art house community on this subject is reprinted (with her permission) below.

I have just returned from CinemaCon a few weeks ago and I am astounded by the volume and “billions” talked about at every corner of that event, from studios, from executives, and from those operating the larger chain for-profit cinemas.  At one point someone used a great classic film as an example of something “lame” and proudly touted an action super-hero movie as “awesome.”

While the mission driven art house cinemas are not exactly playing on the same playing field, the issue of price fixing, as pointed out by John Fithian in his response to Disney, is a valid concern for us as well.  Unfortunately for all exhibitors, the reality is that if ANY studio changes their terms or makes other demands, the entire food chain of studios, mini-majors and indies end up following their lead. It reaches the independent film world very quickly.

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My Columbia Graduation “Speech”

columbia speechAt the Columbia School of the Arts Graduation Ceremony every year, the Chairs of the four programs (Film, Theatre, Writing and Visual Arts) get the opportunity to make some short remarks prior to handing out the diplomas to their students. This tradition has developed into a good-natured competition.

After doing a rather traditional speech my first year as Chair of the Film Program, I found myself being jealous of the other Chairs, as they were able to organically incorporate their disciplines into their speeches. The Chair of Writing delivered something quite poetic, the Chair of Theater was very theatrical, and the Chair of Visual Arts worked with props to make a do something, well, visual. I felt left out.

Over that summer, I got the idea to make a film that would be my speech, and I recruited a group of students to work with me on it over the next academic year. They did a fantastic job and only made one creative mistake…which was casting me in the lead.

The video we made was a hit at graduation that year, and I decided to keep using it since the audience would be different each year. That was also the reason I never posted it anywhere…until now. Since this was my last year as Chair, I now feel like I can share it with the world.

There are many inside jokes in it, so don’t be surprised if some of it doesn’t quite make sense. Also, you should know that the video ends with me entering Miller Theater, which is where the ceremony takes place. When it goes to black, you have to picture at that moment, a spotlight hits the podium on stage and there I am.

So here here is my graduation “speech” for all to see.

I would like to thank the many students and alums who collaborated on the film, especially the Producer, Rachel Brenna; the Director, Jennifer Gerber; and the writers, Nicole DiMasi, Michael Piech and Keola Racela. And thanks to the members of the faculty and staff who were brave enough to participate. This was very much a collaborative effort, and an example of why collaboration is at the center of what we do in the school.

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