“End of an era,” proclaimed Focus Features CEO James Schamus (via email to indieWIRE) this evening, en route to the airport after this weekend’s Academy Awards in Los Angeles. He was reacting to the sudden news that New Yorker Films has closed its doors after 43 years of distributing international cinema. Other email messages today were more brief, but just as striking, offering reactions ranging from, “Ugh” and “that is sad,” to “depressing” and “I’m in shock.”
Countless members of the film community, many of whom started their careers at New Yorker at some point over the past few decades, expressed shock and sadness on Monday, even as a few quietly grumbled that the Dan Talbot and Jose Lopez couldn’t rescue the company from its secret financial crisis.
“For those of us cinephiles of a certain age, the New Yorker logo – and it was barely a logo by today’s standards! – was, long before the dawning of American independent cinema, the guarantor and promise of a truly international, truly cosmopolitan film experience,” elaborated James Schamus, via email, underscoring the legacy of the company. “There isn’t a single serious filmmaker in America who isn’t eternally in Dan Talbot’s debt.”
“Everything great about art film distribution was embodied in New Yorker Films – the ability to champion important films and introduce new talent, the willingness to take a risk and the belief that art films do matter and are worth fighting for,” summarized IFC’s Ryan Werner, who has followed a career path modeled after the work of New Yorker Films. “I never met someone from New Yorker Films that was not a passionate champion of film and that is due to their great leader Dan Talbot,” he said today, “It was and will remain an inspiring company.”
Marie Therese Guirgis, a former colleague of Werner’s at the late Wellspring, was equally eloquent. “Some of my earliest and most memorable childhood film experiences occured at the New Yorker Theater and then at Lincoln Plaza seeing New Yorker distributed films. My mother would take me I believe to expand my horizons, open my mind and ingrain in me that the world was a bigger place,” Guirgis explained by email. “I believe New Yorker’s output has had that very effect on countless people — kids and adults alike.”
“I admire their loyalty to filmmakers and their support of directors’ entire body of work rather than simply taking on the most obviously commercial of the group,” Guirgis explained, “It’s something we tried to do at Wellspring, very consciously in the model of New Yorker films, with a newer generation of great filmmakers.”
A story was published by indieWIRE this morning capping a few days of numerous rumors about the health of the company. The news reverberated throughout the day, with The Onion’s A.V. Club calling it, “a thoroughly depressing piece of film news.” In The New York Times, Dan Talbot was said to be crushed by the decision to close New Yorker Films, saying, “I nurtured this,” he said. “These films are like babies.” Meanwhile in Variety, October Films founder Bingham Ray praised, “If I have any taste at all, it’s due to what I learned from Dan and Jose, who are my mentors.”
“New Yorker Films was my first job, and the company has always been in my heart,” praised IFC Center’s John Vanco today, in extended remarks published in their entirety by indieWIRE. “Dan Talbot and Jose Lopez are truly my heroes.” Meanwhile, publicist and filmmaker Reid Rosefelt saluted the company in another set of remarks also published in their entirety by indieWIRE.
“For me reading that New Yorker Films is closing is like hearing that the Museum of Modern Art must shut their doors because they couldn’t pay the Con Ed bill,” Rosefelt began, “WHAT? This cannot be happening.”
“New Yorker Films was the film school for so many of us,” noted publicist Sasha Berman, who worked for the company in the ’90s. “To me New Yorker Films will always hold a very special place in my heart. It is a sad day.”
“Working at New Yorker was my graduate film education. I feel so fortunate to have spent so much time working alongside and learning from Dan Talbot. He literally and figuratively opened up the world of foreign cinema to me,” explained Susan Wrubel, who said that she owed her career in acquisitions to the company. “I spent 5 years at the company and also got to know Jose incredibly well – the man behind Dan or really ‘the man behind the curtain.’ Jose was amazing and helped me solidify my distribution experience, teaching me how to make the most of limited release distribution. I think back to some of the grass roots campaigns that Mary Ann Hult and Sasha Berman and I managed to pull off in the late ’90s and it is amazing.”
“That company was like a family – once you were in, you are in for life. I can’t believe it is the end of the era,” Wrubel wrote to indieWIRE today.”
“New Yorker Films loomed so large in my young life as a film lover and professional,” recalled SXSW Film Festival head Janet Pierson, a former assistant director of Film Forum who later met (and ultimately married) John Pierson via a Werner Herzog retrospective. “New Yorker Films loomed so large in my young life as a film lover and professional. I was Assistant Director of the Film Forum in NYC 1981-1986, working for Karen Cooper at the time New Yorker Films was programming the second screen,” she said. “Not only were the films exactly the kind of great, challenging work I was hungry for,” she said today, “Dan Talbot, and his right hand Jose Lopez were huge inspirations. I loved working with them. As I loved working with so many of the other film lovers I met who came up through New Yorker films.”
“It’s always traumatic to see one of the good guys go,” noted Variance Films’ Dylan Marchetti, “But it’s horrific to see one of the few true pioneers go. This is going to be a big, big loss.
“It’s absolutely devastating. I’m somewhat shocked we haven’t seen an outpouring of love for New Yorker over the last several hours, and outrage for a film culture that could let this happen,” posted IFC’s Chris Wells, a passionate New York City cinephile, in a message on Facebook. “This is the company, after all, that as of yesterday, still had theatrical rights to ‘L’Argent’, ‘Beau Travail,’ ‘La Belle Noiseuse’, ‘Black Girl’, “Les Carabiniers’, ‘Celine & Julie Go Boating’, ‘Claire Dolan’, ‘Death by Hanging’, ‘Down by Law’, ‘Even Dwarves Started Small’, ‘Jazz on a Summer’s Day’, ‘Memories of Underdevelopment’, ‘A Moment of Innocence’, ‘Moses and Aron’, ‘Rendez-vous in Paris’, ‘Sans Soleil’, ‘The Son’, ‘Taboo’, ‘Too Early Too Late’, ‘Unknown Pleasures’, ‘Vidas Secas’, and ‘The Wind Will Carry Us!’ (And hell, those are just a select few of my absolute favorites).” Continuing, Wells added, “The impact of this development cannot be emphasized enough. New Yorker is dead; long live New Yorker.”
“I think of Dan Talbot’s speech at the Gotham Awards a couple of years ago and looking around the room wondering how many people knew that they wouldn’t be in that room if it weren’t for him and his colleagues at New Yorker Films,” recalled Marie Therese Guirgis, concluding her comments to indieWIRE. “Not to mention at least two generations of our own great American directors who wouldn’t be who they are if New Yorker hadn’t made the work of such directors as Godard, Fassbinder, the Dardenne Brothers, etc. available in this country.”
“So I am sad that the company is closing under stressful conditions but we should all be very much aware of what we owe to the staff of that company over the years.”