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”
When people in the movie business talk about unexpected results, they are usually talking about sure-fire hits that ended up not working. Every once in a while the opposite is true. Such was the case with “Diva.”
The first time I saw “Diva” was in a small screening room in the United Artists building at 729 Seventh Ave. It had been brought to the U.A. Classics team by Norbert Auerbach, who was running U.A.’s international division at the time, and if I’m remembering correctly, it was his wife who had recommended the film. While we found it enjoyable, we passed on it. It just seemed too pop and too mainstream for the art film audience we were used to catering to. It had already opened and flopped in France.
Several months later, I was at the Toronto Film Festival. The moment I arrived I was accosted by David Overbey, a prominent film critic and programmer for the festival, who tried to convince me to see “Diva,” which was emerging as the hit of the festival. I told him we’d seen it and already passed. At that point, the film’s director, Jean-Jacques Beineix, began to stalk me. Every party I went to, he was there and in my face. He told me of the incredible reaction the film was getting, the fact that the festival had already scheduled additional screenings, pleading with me to see it again with an audience. So finally, I gave in and went to a screening. And yes, the audience response was electric.
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”
Below is the video of the keynote speech I gave this past January at the Art House Convergence, an annual event that brings together many of the independent art houses from all over the U.S. and with some representation from the rest of the world. I used the opportunity to give a kind of personal history lesson about the distribution and marketing of indie films, and to draw some lessons for the world we currently live in. A big thank you to Russ Collins of the Michigan Theater for giving me the opportunity to speak, and to Doug Tirola and his team at 4th Row Films for recording it.
These video originally appeared on Thompson on Hollywood, part of the Indiewire network.
I was very sad to read in the New York Times about the death of Steven Bach. Steven and I were colleagues at Columbia University, and we discovered we had many other things in common. We both went to Northwestern and we both worked at United Artists at the same time, although we didn’t get to know each other until we were at Columbia. Steven was instrumental in shaping what has become the producing program at the school, and even after he moved to Vermont, he came down for guest lectures a few times every year. The students loved his lectures on the history of producing and the origins of independent film.
The last time I saw Steven was at a lecture and book signing for his latest book about Leni Riefenstahl. Steven, as usual, was fascinating and entertaining, and he was genuinely pleased by the number of Columbia students who attended the event. Continue reading “Steven Bach”
The re-release of Jean Jacques Beneix’s “Diva” has brought back a lot of memories for me. I was working at United Artists Classics when we released the film in the U.S., and I find it fascinating to read about the film’s history in the various articles that have appeared in the last week. Having been there when it all happened, there’s a lot of misinformation floating around. The film was NOT an instant hit or a sensation upon release. Quite the contrary. In fact the film was a complete flop when it was first released in France. No U.S. distributor was interested in it. The film came to us at U.A. and we passed on it…at least twice.