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”
For the next month or perhaps longer, the state of Wisconsin will be one of the most scrutinized parts of the country. It’s an important swing state that could determine the outcome of the election, while simultaneously being one of the worst hotspots for the coronavirus. In the meantime, the good folks at University of Wisconsin in Madison are helping to keep their community sane by having an online film festival.
The Wisconsin Film Festival was meant to be part of the “Searching for Mr. Rugoff” national tour last spring, and of course was cancelled along with the rest due to the pandemic. The festival has now morphed into a series of screenings available virtually, only for the UW community. Not only are they showing my film, but they are also showing “Gimme Shelter,” which was originally released by Don Rugoff through his company Cinema 5. In conjunction with those screenings, I was interviewed for their Cinematalk Podcast. It’s a pretty in depth interview and was a lot of fun to do. You can listen to it below. Thanks to the University of Wisconsin Cinematheque for their interest.
I’ve just been made aware of the passing of Evangeline Peterson. Some of you may know Evangeline as the wife of Don Rugoff, the subject of my film “Searching for Mr. Rugoff.” It is no exaggeration to say that Evangeline was (is) the star of the film. She added parts of the story that no one else would have known, and her intelligence and radiance jump off the screen.
When I first thought about making a film about Don Rugoff, I had no idea how his family would feel about it or if they would be willing to cooperate. I first reached out to Don’s son Ed and, over an extended lunch, we discussed the project. It seemed as if he was willing. He also mentioned that his mother, Evangeline, was still alive and living in Medford, Oregon. I remembered Evangeline from brief encounters at the Cinema 5 offices when I worked there in the ’70s. She was a beautiful and classy woman; one wondered what she saw in Rugoff, who was not the least bit attractive and a not-very-nice person. Ed promised that he would approach his mother about doing an interview for the film. Continue reading “Evangeline Peterson – Rest in Peace”
Further to the back and forth with Wendy Lidell via our Indiewire articles, Wendy & I had a sort of “debate” as part of the #DigitalPerspectives series sponsored and hosted by Together Films. You can watch a replay of it HERE.
For the last 11 years, I’ve been attending Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival in Michigan, sometimes as a panelist, sometimes as a juror, but mostly as a moderator. In addition to being a very pleasant place to visit, the festival is always well-curated and screenings take place in theaters with state-of-the-art projection and enthusiastic audiences. In other words, it’s a great event.
Every year, Michael has panel discussions that deal with issues that are on his mind, taking advantage of the availability of guests who are at the festival. I was asked to be on two panels this year, both of which are posted below, courtesy of Interlochen Public Radio. I think you’ll the discussions to be pretty interesting.
Independent film began the day motion pictures were invented. In fact all films were independent until a Mr. Edison decided he was going to scoop up all the patents and try to control the fledgling business. And throughout the history of film, there were always outsiders, creating work that was of no interest to the industrialized machine. Some of that work was categorized as “art,” but most if it fell under the category of “specialized.” The term “independent,” as such was used sparingly and mostly in conjunction with particular companies or personalities.
The term “American Independent,” which connoted the sense of a “movement,” came into common usage in the late 1970s with the formation of the IFP (at the time it stood for Independent Feature Project), and crystallized with the release of John Sayles’ “Return of the Secaucus Seven,” which was released in 1980 by Ben Barenholtz’s Libra Films. If John Cassavetes was the Godfather of independent film, John Sayles was its poster child. Continue reading “John Sayles and the Indie Film Movement”
When I think about what kind of films would be made if the business were truly washed of its male bias, one filmmaker who always pops into my mind is Gillian Armstrong. Her films are all over the map in terms of periods, genres and scope, but what they have in common are strong female characters filtered through a strongly female-focused perspective.
After the international success of her debut film “My Brilliant Career,” Gillian could have done just about anything with her follow-up; she chose to use that currency to make a boldly different film—in fact, one so out of left field that it would seem she was challenging the very absurdity of being stereotyped as a certain type of director.
“Starstruck,” Gillian’s Australian punk rock musical, was the first film acquired by Cinecom, a company that I co-founded with two partners in 1982. It had been less than a year since I had been involved with the French film, “Diva,” which–like “Starstruck”–was a major departure from the films that had traditionally come from those countries. And like “Diva,” Gillian’s film had a kind of pop sensibility that seemed perfect for the moment. It was, simply put, a ton of fun. Continue reading “A Punk-Rock Musical from Australia?”
In the history of American independent film, Joan Micklin Silver is a seminal figure. Her body of work as a director is impressive on its own terms, but even more so given the obstacles that women faced—and continue to face—in the film business in the United States. She and her husband Ray, by refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer, set the stage for the independent film boom of the ‘80s by working entirely outside the Hollywood system, pioneering equity investment structures, using their lack of resources to create a unique and personal esthetic, and ultimately, marketing and distributing their own films.
I became aware of Joan’s work upon the release of her first feature, “Hester Street,” which opened in 1976 at the Plaza Theater in New York—a theater that was operated by Cinema 5, the company I was working for at the time. The film was a huge success, grossing over $6 million at the box office and garnering an Oscar nomination for its star, Carol Kane. I got to know Joan and Ray because Cinema 5 bought the non-theatrical rights to the film, and I was in charge of selling it to Jewish groups across the country. Continue reading “The Coolest Film in Town – Chilly Scenes of Winter”
Sarah Kernochan’s “All I Wanna Do” (as it is currently known) is a movie that I’m incredibly proud of, for all the reasons that attracted me to the project to begin with. It was a very personal story, from an accomplished, Oscar-winning filmmaker, who had yet to be given the opportunity to direct a fiction feature. The script was funny and entertaining, geared toward an underserved audience (young women) and dealt with a moment in history (the birth of feminism) that would be enlightening to the target audience.
The trials and tribulations of getting this film released have been well documented in Peter Biskind’s book Down and Dirty Pictures, but suffice it to say that it had something to do with the myth that young women were not a sufficiently large audience to support a substantial theatrical release–this, in spite of having an amazing cast of well-known stars that included Kirsten Dunst, Gaby Hoffmann, Rachael Leigh Cook, Heather Matarazzo, Merritt Weaver, Monica Keena, Vincent Kartheiser and Matthew Lawrence, and for the grownups, Lynn Redgrave. Ironically, the film was a hit in Canada, where it was released broadly, and the film is considered somewhat of a cult classic by Canadian women who were 12-15 years old when it was released. Continue reading “Screw the Title, See the Movie”
John Cassavetes is commonly referred to as the Godfather of Independent Film. While independent filmmakers existed from the moment the medium was invented, Cassavetes pioneered the inside/outside model that became more common in later years—that model being, he made money by working within the Hollywood system and then used his own money to make films that experimented with form and catered to a more discerning audience.