Bingham Ray is back on the festival acquisition beat. But this time, after decades in indie distribution and a recent stint consulting at SnagFilms and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Ray will be making a move to the Bay Area as executive director of the San Francisco Film Society, which runs year-round programs including the annual San Francisco International Film Festival. He will be filling the role left vacant by Graham Leggat, who served the SFSS for seven years; he died of cancer in late August.
Ray’s Westchester home is on the market; he’ll drive West to San Francisco the first week of November, he told me, to start his new duties November 7, and looks forward to joining the team at the venerable and sprawling April fest, including director of programming Rachel Rosen. Ray (pictured above at the Spirit Awards with LAFF’s David Ansen) plans to learn the organization slowly and won’t make any fast moves; his deep relationships with festivals and filmmakers around the world will be a great boon to the San Francisco film community.
More details from the SFFS release below.
In 2007 Ray joined the Los Angeles-based production company Sidney Kimmel Entertainment and held two posts during his three-year tenure, president of Kimmel Distribution and president of creative affairs. In the first post Ray supervised all marketing and distribution plans for the original Death at a Funeral, Talk to Me, Lars and the Real Girl and Synecdoche, N.Y., among others. In the latter he was responsible for the development and production activities of the remake of Death at a Funeral, as well as supervising the development of a seven-film production slate.
In September 2001, Ray assumed the post of president of United Artists. During his tenure at UA, the company acquired and/or produced many highly acclaimed films such as No Man’s Land, winner of the 2001 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, winner of the 2002 Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary and the 2004 Academy Award-nominated Hotel Rwanda. Other United Artists films successfully released during Ray’s tenure include Jeepers Creepers 1 & 2, Nicholas Nickleby, Ghost World, Igby Goes Down and Pieces of April.
“Bingham’s coming on board is fantastic news for the Film Society. He is well known and well loved by filmmakers and studio executives alike, with a wide reach both domestically and internationally. He’s as at ease and knowledgeable in a conversation about the qualities of a screenplay as he is about the distribution pattern of a new film in Europe or Asia. We couldn’t ask for a more full service addition to SFFS,” said Film Society board member and former AMPAS President Sid Ganis.
Prior to running United Artists, Ray cofounded October Films in 1991 and served as its copresident until its sale to USA Networks in 1999. October was one of the foremost independent film companies of the 1990s, winning two Oscars and garnering 13 Oscar nominations and top prizes at the Cannes Film Festival on three occasions. Some of October Films’ credits include the internationally acclaimed Secrets & Lies, The Apostle, Cookie’s Fortune, The Celebration, Lost Highway, The Last Seduction and Breaking the Waves.
Ray began his career in 1981 as manager/programmer of the Bleecker Street Cinema. He has been on the juries of the Sundance Film Festival, Rotterdam Film Festival, Edinburgh Film Festival and the Film Independent Spirit Awards. He has lectured on film production and development at the City College of New York’s Graduate Film School, Columbia University and New York University.
Ray succeeds Graham Leggat, who served as the San Francisco Film Society’s executive director from October 2005 to June 2011 before his untimely death from cancer in August 2011. In five short years Leggat transformed the organization from an annual fifteen-day film festival producer into a year-round cultural institution with an increasingly national impact, providing programs and services in three key areas of activity: exhibition, education and filmmaker services. He strengthened SFFS with a valuable legacy and left it in the best shape—artistically, organizationally and financially—in its 54-year history.
“Graham’s death was difficult for all of us, both professionally and personally, and left very big shoes to fill. Having followed Bingham’s dynamic career for years and witnessed his passion for film, I can think of no one better to lead us into a new era and I’m thrilled that he’ll be bringing his tremendous experience, fresh energy and ideas to the Film Society,” said Director of Programming Rachel Rosen.
“The Film Society became an incredibly unique institution under Graham Leggat’s tenure,” said SFFS board co-vice president Jen Chaiken. Co-vice president Todd Traina and I spearheaded the search for our new director, as we wanted potential candidates to fully understand what a special opportunity this is. After interviewing candidates from across the country and abroad, there is no one we’re more excited about to take us into the future than Bingham Ray. He’s a one-of-a-kind, seminal figure in the film world and we couldn’t be luckier to have him.”
The Film Society’s expanded year-round programming includes daily screenings and events at San Francisco Film Society | New People Cinema, highlighted by the Fall Season of seven specialized festivals. The crown jewel of the exhibition program is the San Francisco International Film Festival (April 19-May 3, 2012). The education department offers year-round media literacy programs to over 10,000 K-12 students, college and university programs to help students transition into the professional filmmaking arena, and more than 120 classes and workshops per year in film craft and film studies for filmmakers, filmgoers and cinephiles of all ages and skill levels. Filmmaker services offers a full suite of programs and activities designed to foster creativity and further the careers of independent filmmakers and oversees one of the largest film grant programs in the country, which will have dispersed more than $3.5 million to filmmakers by 2013. Hundreds of filmmakers have benefited from a vibrant fiscal sponsorship program, which provides production and development assistance.
“I firmly believe in the adage ‘don’t fix what’s not broken,’” said Ray. “My initial mission will be to carefully study and evaluate the existing programs of the Film Society, aiming to guide them to further growth and articulation. I’m particularly excited to begin an exploration into creating a dynamic digital initiative for the organization which could eventually expand the reaches of the education programs and SFIFF.”