Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Deceased--Bingham Ray

Bingham Ray
October 1st, 1954 to January 23rd, 2012

"Bingham Ray dies at 57; leading force in independent films"

Ray, who co-founded October Films, one of the top independent distribution firms in the '90s, suffered a stroke at the Sundance Film Festival.


Dennis McLellan

January 24th, 2012

Los Angeles Times

Bingham Ray, the co-founder of October Films, one of the top independent film distribution companies of the 1990s, and a former president of United Artists who was a leading force in independent films for more than two decades, died Monday. He was 57.

Ray, who was named executive director of the San Francisco Film Society in November, died in a hospital in Provo, Utah, after suffering a stroke last week while attending the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, said Sarah Eaton, a spokeswoman for the family.

"We lost a true warrior for independent voice today with the passing of Bingham Ray," Sundance founder Robert Redford said in a statement. "He was a valued member of the Sundance family for as long as I can remember, and he is responsible for mentoring countless seminal storytellers and bringing their work to the world."

A onetime manager and programmer at the Bleecker Street Cinema in New York's Greenwich Village in the early 1980s, Ray co-founded October Films in 1991 with Jeff Lipsky in Lipsky's garage in Sherman Oaks.

Six months after its first release, Mike Leigh's "Life Is Sweet," the company had raised capital and opened its doors in New York City. Ray served as co-president until the company's sale to USA Networks in 1999.

During his years with October Films, Ray distributed films such as Leigh's "Secrets & Lies," Lars von Trier's "Breaking the Waves," John Dahl's "The Last Seduction," Robert Duvall's "The Apostle," David Lynch's "Lost Highway," Robert Altman's "Cookie's Fortune" and Jim Jarmusch's "The Year of the Horse."

"He was very beloved by the filmmakers he worked with and very dedicated to preserving their vision in bringing their films to the marketplace," John Schmidt, one of Ray's former partners in October Films, said Monday.

"He was a man whose passion for film just embodied everything good about our industry," Schmidt said. "He did it with tremendous drive and passion, not because he wanted to become a millionaire and not because he wanted to be a big shot, but because it was in his heart and soul."

After leaving October Films in 1999, Ray continued to be a familiar presence at film festivals, where he served on judging panels. But after nearly dying in a traffic accident in 2000, he later told the New York Times, "I realized where my place really is."

In 2001, after six months as president of New York-based Crossroads Films, Ray was named president of United Artists, the specialty films division of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.

During his nearly 2 1/2 years at UA, Ray bought Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine," which won the Academy Award for best feature documentary in 2003.

In a Twitter message on Monday, Moore said he would "deeply miss" Ray. "He bought & distributed Bowling for Columbine when no one else would. He stood by me all the way."

Among other films the company acquired/and or produced during Ray's tenure are Danis Tanovic's "No Man's Land," an Oscar winner for best foreign language film; "Nicholas Nickleby," "Jeepers Creepers" and its sequel, and "Pieces of April."

When Ray resigned from UA in 2004, the Hollywood Reporter reported that sources close to the situation said that he and MGM executives "often clashed over the types of films that Ray chose to champion, with the studio regarding his taste as too esoteric and arty."

Independent producer Jonathan Dana described Ray on Monday as being "one of a kind."

"I don't think there is anybody more passionate or dedicated or more courageous than Bingham in terms of what he believed in and what he would fight for and who he would challenge if it meant moving something forward that he believed in," Dana said.

"He's a true testament to what we all do in the independent film world."

Ray, who was born Oct. 1, 1954, in Bronxville, N.Y., told the San Francisco Chronicle in December that his father, a civil engineer, taught him to love movies in elementary school: His reward for finishing his homework was being allowed to watch movies on TV with his dad.

His film education continued at Scarsdale High School, where he took a film class that introduced him to foreign films and prompted him to make his first film with a Super 8 camera provided by the teacher. He graduated with a degree in theater arts and speech from Simpson College in Iowa.

After his stint at the Bleecker Street Cinema, Ray worked for New Yorker Films, the Samuel Goldwyn Co. and Alive Films before co-founding October Films.

He joined L.A.-based production company Sidney Kimmel Entertainment in 2007 and over the next three years served as president of Kimmel Distribution and president of creative affairs.

Before being named executive director of the San Francisco Film Society, he served as the first-run programming consultant to the Film Society of Lincoln Center, executive consultant to the digital distribution company SnagFilms and adjunct professor at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.

Ray is survived by his wife, Nancy King; their children, Nick, Annabel and Becca; and his sisters, Susan Clair and Deb Pope.

"Bingham Ray, Executive Who Championed Independent Films, Dies at 57"


Brooks Barnes

January 23rd, 2012

The New York Times

Bingham Ray, a colorful indie-film executive who helped steer art-house movies like “Bowling for Columbine” and “Hotel Rwanda” to the masses, died on Monday in a hospice in Provo, Utah. He was 57.

The cause was a series of strokes, according to the San Francisco Film Society, where he had only recently become its executive director, an appointment he described in October as “too good to be true.” He was in Utah to attend the Sundance Film Festival.

Volatile and blunt, Mr. Ray championed stylized, intellectually challenging films, buying distribution rights to movies that few believed had a box-office prayer. “The words ‘fearless’ and ‘brave’ are tossed around a lot in our world, but that’s the only way to describe Bingham,” said Eamonn Bowles, the president of Magnolia Pictures.

Mr. Ray helped create a business model in which art-house movies grew into a powerful economic and cultural force. He co-founded one of the first major indie distributors, October Films, in 1991, working with Jeff Lipsky in a house in suburban Los Angeles.

October Films, along with Miramax Films and Sony Pictures Classics, was designed to snap up indie gems from festivals like Sundance and distribute them broadly, relying on guerrilla marketing campaigns and the Oscars to get them noticed. “Secrets & Lies,” directed by Mike Leigh, and Lars von Trier’s “Breaking the Waves,” both from 1996, were two of October’s biggest successes. October Films was also responsible for David Lynch’s “Lost Highway” and one of the first widely seen Iranian movies, “The White Balloon,” directed by Jafar Panahi.

Mr. Ray left October Films in 1999, when it was sold to USA Networks. After a series of mergers and acquisitions, the company emerged in 2002 as Focus Features, which remains an art-house leader. “If you draw a line back to the rise of independent film, you find Bingham,” Mr. Bowles said.

Born on Oct. 1, 1954, Mr. Ray grew up in Scarsdale, N.Y. He was fascinated with movies from an early age; one of his first jobs was as a projectionist in a Greenwich Village theater. He started his formal career in 1981 in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s New York office, where he sold library titles to hospitals, colleges and ships at sea.

He worked at five other distribution companies, including New Yorker Films and Avenue Pictures, where he oversaw the release of Gus Van Sant’s “Drugstore Cowboy” in 1989 before founding October Films.

From 2001 to 2004 Mr. Ray was president of United Artists, working to revive its reputation for serving up top-notch specialty films. “Bowling for Columbine,” a Michael Moore documentary on the American gun culture, and Terry George’s “Hotel Rwanda,” starring Don Cheadle in a fact-based tale set during the Rwandan genocide, were two United Artists films released under Mr. Ray’s watch. His subsequent jobs included running Sidney Kimmel Entertainment.

He was also a consultant to the Film Society of Lincoln Center, IFC Films and Snag Films, which focuses on documentaries, and an adjunct professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Mr. Ray is survived by his wife, Nancy King; their children Nick, Annabel and Becca; and his sisters, Susan Clair and Deb Pope.

Peter Biskind’s book “Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance and the Rise of Independent Film” (2004), captured the excitement Mr. Ray felt about art-house movies. “We’re not as well-heeled as some of these other companies, but we’re hungrier, because it’s me, and I’m really, really hungry,” Mr. Biskind quotes him as saying during a Sundance bidding war. “This film, I’m drooling. I would chop my left arm to do it.”

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