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by Dana Harris
January 23, 2012 2:25 PM
15 Comments
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Beloved Indie Film Veteran Bingham Ray Has Died

Brian Brooks Bingham Ray and Spike Jonze at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.

Bingham Ray, our friend and fearless champion of independent film, died this morning in Utah of complications following a stroke. Please join us in remembering him.

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Sundance Institute just released the following statement:

It is with great sadness that the Sundance Institute acknowledges the passing of Bingham Ray, cherished independent film executive and most recently Executive Director of the San Francisco Film Society.  On behalf of the independent film community here  in Park City for the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and elsewhere, we offer our support and condolences to his family.  Bingham’s many contributions to this community and business are indelible, and his legacy will not be soon forgotten.

From the San Francisco Film Society:

The San Francisco Film Society regrets to announce that Executive Director Bingham Ray passed away on January 23 while attending the 2012 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

"The board of directors and staff of the Film Society are stunned and deeply saddened by the untimely death of our executive director Bingham Ray. We at the Film Society and the entire film community have lost far too early an energetic and visionary impact player who has helped shape the independent film industry for decades in so many important and valuable ways," said Pat McBaine, SFFS board president. "He shall be dearly missed. Our deepest sympathies and condolences go out to Bingham's family and his legions of friends and colleagues all over the world who loved and respected him."
 

Ray brought his well-developed creative and business acumen to the running, reimagining and reinvigorating of a major nonprofit arts organization. Since taking the helm on November 7, 2011 he oversaw and crafted a cohesive plan to strengthen the Film Society's exhibition, education and filmmakers services programs, including its most successful fall season to date; addressed the strenuous financial concerns facing nonprofit arts organizations today; focused particular attention on the operation of SF Film Society Cinema; connected to the local education community; broadened the outreach and impact of the project development and grants programs; and was well into plans for the 55th San Francisco International Film Festival.


He immediately became a part of the SF film world, hosting a reception at Tosca Café to introduce himself to the community; a special screening of California State of Mind: The Legacy of Pat Brown, attended by Governor Jerry Brown and his wife Anne Gust; and a preview of Pina with his old friend Wim Wenders, attended by Francis and Eleanor Coppola, Les Blank, Phil Kaufman and Tom Luddy.


"When Bingham took the job, we were ecstatic," said SFFS board co-vice president and film producer Jen Chaiken. "It was an enormous vote of confidence for the organization that he was compelled to uproot his life to come run the Film Society. Bingham felt this job honored and tapped into the experience he'd garnered over the past 30 years. Bingham was one of those rare few who everyone knew on a first name only basis. He was one of a kind and will be deeply, deeply missed."


Ray came to the San Francisco Film Society from New York City, where he recently 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 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.


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.


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.


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

15 Comments

  • Wesley Harris | January 24, 2012 4:37 PMReply

    I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Ray briefly, when we brought him to the Virginia Film Festival to sit on a panel exploring the history of independent film. His legacy will loom large, as will my respect for him and his obvious enthusiasm for the art. He was a true champion of the cinema.

  • Rachael Horovitz | January 24, 2012 7:54 AMReply

    I would never have stayed in this business if not for Bingham's encouragement and unconditional faith that I knew what I was doing and that I would succeed. His constant friendship was rare in this world.

  • Melissa Howden | January 23, 2012 11:28 PMReply

    Some years ago when I worked at the San Francisco International Film Festival I had many occasions to speak with Bingham on the phone. I never met him in person but he was the one Film Executive I looked forward to speaking with. He had manners. He didn't play games and was always gracious. A man of integrity. His untimely death is so very sad.

  • Joel Roodman | January 23, 2012 10:56 PMReply

    Bingham, you will indeed be missed.

  • Clifford Terry | January 23, 2012 7:35 PMReply

    It is morning here in Australia and as I read through my Indiewire newsletter, I am greeted with the most shocking news. My deepest condolences to Nancy and his children. Word cannot express how much this saddens me. It has been years since we have been in touch but I always hoped that we would reconnect at some point in the future. Interestingly, the last time we met was at Sundance in 1998 and a year later I was on the other side of the world. Goodbye old friend.

  • Filmonista | January 23, 2012 7:28 PMReply

    http://filmonista.wordpress.com/2012/01/23/ifc-films-and-woodstock-film-festival-advisory-board-member-bingham-ray-has-died/

  • Gary Meyer | January 23, 2012 7:26 PMReply

    I first came to know Bingham in the early 1980s. We shared ideas and print sources for the Bleecker Street Cinema in New York that he programmed and the Landmark Theatres I was doing. Upon moving into distribution he both learned from his new boss Dan Talbot and contributed exciting concepts at New Yorker Films. At Samuel Goldywn and Avenue, Bingham had creative ideas to expand audiences for independent and foreign films. I will always remember his passion to help launch the career of Gus Van Sant and his radical plan to break previous release patterns by having DRUGSTORE COWBOY platform in Los Angeles at the Nuart, a calendared theater. The initial industry criticism quickly turned to raves for his bold move when the film was a huge success.

    Bingham and his cohorts regularly took on controversial and challenging movies, making them successes against the odds. Audiences, filmmakers, the media and cinemas were all the beneficiaries.

    When he switched back to exhibition working with the New York Film Society on their new theaters last year, it was a welcome return. For years Bingham had told me he would like to move to San Francisco and take over a movie theater. And then, in the fall it was announced that he would be coming to “the city by the bay” to run the San Francisco Film Society which included their own newly opened cinema. The past few months have been so much fun for his friends here. We had been able to see him hard at work and play---synonymous terms for Bingham.

    There was no way the shock waves of this weekend could have been predicted. Our lives have been enriched by Bingham Ray and we shall always be thankful to have been affected by his energy, creativity and friendship.

  • Darryl Macdonald | January 23, 2012 7:15 PMReply

    Bingham was one of the true giants of the indie film world - loved and respected by everyone who knew him and who worked with him over the course of these many years. The last time I had an extended conversation with him was at Cannes in May, where he expressed his opinion about "Tree of Life" the same way he'd give it to you about anything that happened to be up for discussion - characteristically frank, full of his own brand of insight and straight to the quick. He was a special guy, and he will be hugely missed.

  • L.M. Kit Carson | January 23, 2012 6:13 PMReply

    Truly glad I got the chance to give Bing a big laughing last bear-hug 0f thanks @ this year's WOODSTOCK FEST -- he's one of the heart-souls here -- wasn't he the 1st A.D. on CITIZEN KANE?

  • charles lyons | January 23, 2012 5:24 PMReply

    My condolences to Bingham's family. He was a gentleman, a great force in indiefilm and a wonderful supporter--whether you had creative aspirations or not. He emailed me last week to make sure I was coming to the SF Film Festival party here at Sundance. After my years at Variety, we ran into each other and he told me to stay in the film world--stay part of it, stay in the game. No matter his own struggles, he had kind words for all of us who strive and seek. RIP, Bingham.

  • Phyllis de Picciotto | January 23, 2012 4:38 PMReply

    I send my condolences to Bigham's family and to the greater film community. He was a fine man, great to work with and always caring and considerate in his business dealings.
    Bon voyage!
    Phyllis de Picciotto, Santa Barbara, CA

  • Landee Bryant | January 23, 2012 4:32 PMReply

    I just met Bingham a week ago at the Art House Convergence, but he became a quick friend and amazing proveyor of ideas. He was the first person to sit down at the Round Table I hosted and made me feel at ease. What a wonderful man. Even though I only knew him briefly, he made a lasting impression. I just can't believe it.

  • Diana Fuller | January 23, 2012 4:31 PMReply

    Our deepest sympathy to Bingham's wife, Nancy, and his two children. We so looked forward to a promising new chapter in the San Francisco International Film Festival's history and to his innovative ideas for film education. What a tragedy for the San Francisco Film Community.
    Diana Fuller

  • Keith Bearden | January 23, 2012 3:33 PMReply

    Met Bingham a number a times. Look at his track record. A man with taste. He will be missed.

  • Jerry Lentz | January 23, 2012 2:59 PMReply

    He was always nice to me whenever I'd see him! He will be missed.