Seth Willenson, who died this week at the age of 74, was a good guy. I know that sounds like faint praise, but in a business that thrives on over-stuffed egos, it actually means a lot. He was also someone who loved movies, understood the structural ins and outs of a complicated and constantly changing landscape, and found success seeing opportunities where others didn’t. He was also a great judge of talent and mentored many a young aspiring film executive.
I first met Seth when I had just started in the business. I was a non-theatrical salesperson at Cinema 5, a small independent distribution company. Seth was the head of sales at Films Incorporated, which was the largest non-theatrical distributor at the time, and handled films from MGM, Paramount and 20th Century Fox, among others. For the uninitiated, “non-theatrical” meant renting 16mm prints of films to college film societies, public libraries and other such venues. It was a fairly large business at that time due to films having no other outlets after their theatrical runs. There was no such thing yet as home video, and television networks didn’t have that much movie programming. Continue reading “Seth Willenson, Innovator and Good Guy”
Upon hearing of the death of Irwin Young at the age of 94, I wrote a heartfelt remembrance of the man who played such an enormous role in the lives of so many independent filmmakers. It was originally published in Indiewire. I am reprinting it here it its entirety.
When prominent people die, obituaries often declare the end of an era. In the case of Irwin Young, who died this past Thursday at the age of 94, there’s an added poignancy to seeing his death through that lens, as we are living through a time when everything he stood for is under threat. Anyone who lived through the modern history of independent film can tell you: much of that history could not have happened without him. Continue reading “Irwin Young – Godfather of Independent Film”
Ten years ago, on what was then the 10th Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I felt compelled to write down my memories of that day, and the complicated family odyssey that followed. Anyone who was in New York on that day has stories to tell, and I wanted to make sure to preserve mine before the details became too fuzzy. I consulted my wife and a few other key participants to make sure I got things as accurate as possible, and wrote it all down. Now, here we are another 10 years later, and the story still conjures up so much emotion that I am sharing it again. Here is the story of our family odyssey…
At the Sundance premiere of Steve James’ film about Roger Ebert, “Life Itself,” I found myself sitting next to Barbara Kopple. Barbara and I have known each other for a long time, and I’m a huge fan of her work. When I worked at Cinema 5, I did co-op advertising for “Harlan County USA,” and many years later I worked with her to find the financing for her “Woodstock ’94” doc. Since both of us are New Yorkers, we see each other a lot at screenings and other industry events.
Before the Ebert film began, Barbara and I were chatting and the subject of Don Rugoff came up. Barbara told me a couple of stories about her experience with his distribution of “Harlan County,” and it was one of those moments where I wished I had brought a camera with me to capture them.
Later, when I finally decided I was making a film about Rugoff, Barbara was on my list of people to interview, but she was going through an extraordinarily busy period in her career, so it was near impossible to find a time to do it. I caught her off guard at an event and sprung my camera on her, so the interview was impromptu and rushed. It turned out, unbeknownst to me at the time, that the camera was acting up, so you’ll have to forgive a few moments of soft focus in this great outtake clip, in which Barbara talks about the early history of “Harlan County,” when she had no idea that it would become the sensation that it later became.
Sarah Kernochan is a screenwriter, director, author, songwriter, performer and two-time Oscar winning documentarian, and a friend. I saw her first doc “Marjoe” as a young cinephile, not realizing that years later, I would end up producing her first fiction feature as director, “All I Wanna Do.” In this outtake clip Sarah talks about why she thinks Don Rugoff, who distributed “Marjoe,” is a significant figure in the history of independent film.
Film Comment sends out a weekly newsletter about what’s going on in the world of serious cinephilia, and this week’s issue contained a nice surprise for me. In conjunction with the release of my film and a podcast that I did with them, they exhumed a piece that I wrote for them in 2005, in which I revealed myself as the author of seven years worth of columns that I wrote under a pseudonym. You can read the newsletter here and if you are serious about film, I highly advise that you subscribe to the newsletter.
Interviewing Lina Wertmuller in her apartment in Rome was one of the highlights of my life. But it was hardly an easy interview. First off, I don’t speak any Italian and she speaks very little English. We had an interpreter, but that only interrupted the flow of the conversation. And when I brought up subjects that I thought would be interesting or provocative, she would just blow me off. This clip is a perfect example of her contrarian spirit.
The folks at Film Comment asked me to do a podcast with special guest host Eugene Hernandez, Publisher of the publication and also Co-Executive Director of Film at Lincoln Center. We covered a lot of ground that takes off from the themes in my film “Searching for Mr. Rugoff” and the past and future of the independent film landscape. Listen in…
“Monty Python & the Holy Grail” was the biggest hit that Don Rugoff ever distributed. In this outtake from “Searching for Mr. Rugoff,” Producer John Goldstone talks about the origins of the film and the large role that rock and roll played in getting it financed.
Bob Shaye was in the early stages of starting up what became New Line Cinema when Don Rugoff was at the height of his success, and he refers to Rugoff in the film as his nemesis. This outtake clip has Bob telling the story of how he got into the business, which started with his realization that film distribution was not that different from his father’s business–wholesale groceries.
For those of you who don’t know, Bob was my boss when I founded Fine Line Features as a division of New Line.