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.
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.
With news of the passing of Robert Downey today, it seemed appropriate to share a bit of the interview I did with him for “Searching for Mr. Rugoff.” There are lots of great moments with him in the film, but this particular one didn’t make it to the final cut. It’s a great example of how affable he was and what a great storyteller! I’m glad I had the chance to spend time with him.
The idea for a documentary of some sort had been rumbling around in my head for a long time. At first I thought it would simply be a way of capturing a bit of history by interviewing people that I knew were getting up in age and had great stories to tell about the early era of independent film distribution.
It was 7 years ago this week that I heard Roger Corman was being honored at Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival, an event that I have attended yearly for quite some time. It dawned on me that this was an opportunity to capture one of those interviews for my yet to be defined project. I reached out to Michael and asked if I could interview Roger at the festival. The resulting interview was just as informative and colorful as I had hoped, but as my project took shape, it turned out that Roger did not make the final cut. However, I decided that this interview, and the many others that followed, deserved to see the light of day as a sort of side project. My goal is to eventually create an online oral history about this particular period in the business.
In any case, below is a small portion of that interview.
A few days ago, I announced the long-awaited release of my film “Searching for Mr. Rugoff” (long-awaited by me, anyway). It’s been a protracted journey with many twists. I’ve begun to reflect on the many decisions I made along the way–fortunate and not–and thought some of it might be instructive for others (the teacher comes out in me!)
The project itself was years in the making, and at many points I wondered if it would ever actually add up to anything. I was once told that narrative features are a sprint, but that documentaries are a marathon. Trite but true. There were many times when I thought the film was as good as it could be, only to get feedback that made me take yet another look, leading to yet another version. The process was often frustrating and infuriating, but with each iteration, it seemed to get better. I had work-in-progress screenings for the students at Columbia, at the offices of Kartemquin Films in Chicago, at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, and at the 2019 Art House Convergence. And while audience reactions were very encouraging, I always walked away with more notes—sometimes completely contradictory. Continue reading “A Little Glimpse Behind the Scenes of the Release of My Doc”
Within a month of when I started working at Cinema 5 in 1975, Joan Micklin Silver’s first feature, Hester Street, opened at the Plaza Theater on 58th Street. The Plaza was one of the Cinema 5 theaters and it was located around the corner from our offices. Every night, on the way home from work, I would see the lines of people stretched all the way down the block toward Park Avenue. The film was a huge hit. Around that time, I first met Joan and her husband Ray when they came to our offices to make a deal with us to distribute the film to the non-theatrical market. I learned that my boss, Don Rugoff, had turned the film down for theatrical distribution because he thought (as many others did) that the film was “too niche.” But now that the film was a hit, he wanted in.
My job at the time was as a non-theatrical salesperson, so I was on the phone all day with colleges, libraries and other organizations, trying to get them to book our library of films. Hester Street would not only be a valuable addition, but would be of particular appeal to Jewish organizations, which we were already servicing with such films as Garden of the Finzi-Continis and The Sorrow and the Pity, among others. Continue reading “A Tribute to Joan Micklin Silver”