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by Eugene Hernandez
February 23, 2009 6:39 AM
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UPDATED: End of the Road for New Yorker Films, Legendary Distributor of "Difficult" Cinema

EDITORS NOTE: This story was updated with information regarding an email message sent by New Yorker to filmmakers.

With rumors swirling all weekend among industry insiders, New Yorker Films, the venerable film distribution company, confirmed today that it is closing its doors. They made the announcement via a simple statement on their website.

"After 43 years in business, New Yorker Films has ceased operations," the statement reads. "We would like to thank the filmmakers and producers who trusted us with their work, as well as our customers, whose loyalty has sustained us through the years."

Founded in 1965 by Dan Talbot, New Yorker has a legendary legacy, boasting a long-standing track record in international film distribution, bringing a staggering number of international auteurs to this country's movie theaters over more than four decades. The company's crucial role in establishing a lasting film culture in this country cannot be underestimated. A New York Times profile in 1987, marking a 14-week salute to the company at New York's Public Theater, listed an illustrious roster of filmmakers whose films were released by the company: Ackerman, Bertolucci, Bresson, Chabrol, Fassbinder, Fellini, Godard, Herzog, Kieslowski, Malle, Rohmer, Rossellini, Sembene, Wenders, Schlondorff, and many others.

Talbot, a beloved film figure, formed New Yorker Films in the wake of running the New Yorker Theater at Broadway and 88th St in Manhattan, deciding to take on the distribution of Bernardo Bertolucci's "Before the Revolution." Nearly five years ago he spoke about his history in a speech at the Gotham Awards that was later published by indieWIRE.

Neither Dan Talbot or Jose Lopez from New Yorker Films have been available for comment today. Insiders began buzzing more intensely about the company late last week after word spread within the industry that the company was failing under the weight of apparent monies owed to Technicolor. At Saturday's Independent Spirit Awards in California, numerous industry figures were wondering about the fate of the company and its library. Talbot's Lincoln Plaza Cinemas is not expected to be affected by the decision to close New Yorker Films, according to numerous well-placed insiders.

An email message recently sent by Lopez to filmmakers was forwarded to indieWIRE this afternoon, it reads: "I have sad news.The parent company of New Yorker Films has defaulted on a loan. The assets of New Yorker were used as security on the loan. The lender has informed us that it intends to foreclose on these assets. New Yorker stopped doing business yesterday...We are in total shock that after forty three years this has happened."

Many active members of the film community have worked at New Yorker over the years, ranging from Bingham Ray, Jeff Lipsky, John Vanco and Susan Wrubel, to Mary Ann Hult, Reid Rosefelt, Mark Lipsky, Sasha Berman, Suzanne Fedak, Amy Heller, Rebecca Conget and Harris Dew.

New Yorker was acquired by Madstone in 2002, but survived and continued even after Madstone shut its doors just two years later.

''These are 'difficult' films, not popular mass-market films,'' Dan Talbot told the New York Times in the 1987 profile. ''They're meant for a small, elite audience. And nothing has changed in 20 years; it's still a very tiny, elite audience. There were other distributors who were bringing in these films, but I would say that our role was to introduce some of the more risky films that on the surface did not seem to have a wide audience. Distribution of that kind is a very financially masochistic business. This is an audience that generally knows at least one foreign language, that has done a certain amount of traveling, that is probably interested in wine and foreign cars and that is fed up with all the junk that comes out of the West Coast. There's been no dynamic expansion; there is still a limited audience for this kind of film.''

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14 Comments

  • Greg Gilligan | March 5, 2009 5:17 AMReply

    I had the pleasure of working with Jose for the past two years inspecting and repairing these priceless gems.I will miss working with Jose, Satesh(Max), Linda, Emilio, Anna.They are great people. In answer to Toms inquiry about "Three Monkeys", it will now be handled by Zeitgeist Films. I believe the New Yorker collection will be auctioned off next week..so we'll see what happens. If anyone is in need of 35mm inspection or repair of film please contact me
    filmedia@optimum.net
    Best Regards
    Greg Gilligan
    FILMEDIA

  • michaelwiese | February 24, 2009 9:45 AMReply

    My first film influences as a teenager in Illinois were those distributed by New Yorker. Foreign films opened my eyes to a much wider world. Years later when I ran a midnight movie series in San Francisco I emulated New Yorker's vision and even rented some films from Dan like "Before the Revolution". Their influence was enormous and the value of what they contributed to film lovers everywhere.

  • ninetto m | February 24, 2009 8:54 AMReply

    Regarding previous remarks: Yes, European art houses get public funding, as do distributors (including however, mainstream Hollywood). This system is also under threat and is changing.
    Why everything has to "turn a profit" and the insane rules of turbo-capitalism are treated as "natural" laws to be applied to everything - in America, even to personal relationships- this is truly THE problem.

    In Eastern Europe before 1989 there was some political censorship regarding film, but still there was a huge spectrum of all kinds of films for the public. As Milos Foreman once remarked, when you are a political censor, you often make mistakes and something slips thru, but when you are economic censor counting pennies, you NEVER make a "mistake". ANYWAY whereas in Eastern Europe we used to be able to see films from Bulgaria, Japan, Austrailia, France, etc. now, here if there are any film theaters that haven't yet been turned into supermarkets, you can only see American "blockbusters" in them. That's "democracy" for ya, right?

  • vagabond | February 24, 2009 4:55 AMReply

    Something should burn...
    Windows should be broken...
    A riot in the Wall Street(s)...
    Not everything is for money...
    Not everything is for money...
    Some of us could care less about money...
    And some of us do...
    Who will "pay" for these injustices?
    All the money getting in the way...
    Something should burn...
    So we can clear the landscape...
    And see each other...
    Hear each other...
    Understand each other...
    Without the money getting in the way...
    Something should burn...
    - vagabond
    www.machetero-movie.com

  • mwblock | February 24, 2009 1:34 AMReply

    This is a tragedy in so many ways.
    -A major collection will be fragmented.
    -The institutional memory of this organization will be lost.
    -The films will need a home, perhaps MOMA?
    -It's imperative that the collection not be fragmented and/or not sold to a company in play.
    Let's hope they have an entity that will come to their rescue and be able to take over the collection for the long term.

    Mitchell Block, Founder and President
    www.directcinema.com

  • langdonboom | February 24, 2009 1:09 AMReply

    What happens to the films they distribute?

    Does this mean we'll NEVER get a DVD of Bresson's "Four Nights of a Dreamer"?

  • pr_gmr | February 23, 2009 11:52 AMReply

    Very crappy news. Everytime an indie distributor goes out of business it's a sad day for this artform.

  • russmichth | February 23, 2009 11:45 AMReply

    New Yorker did a great service to art film lover and Art House theaters for many, many years. I wonder if they ended up being burdened by debt or legal entanglements as a result of the Madstone fiasco. Regarding the art house market in the USA; film exhibition in America is generally thought of as a commercial endeavor. Film markets do not yet seem to be as fully evolved as, for example, are the markets for music. People seem to generally understand the music promoters fall into three general categories: commercial, quasi-commercial and non-commercial (non-profit) market segments. Although the film markets have many of the same commercial (and non-commercial) dynamics as music, the quasi-commercial and non-commercial aspects of film exhibition (and distribution) do not appear to be as well understood or as easily funded by philanthropic support. This is sure to change over time as film culture organizations (like community-based, mission-driven not-for-profit Art House theaters) grow in local communities nation-wide.

  • jtakagi | February 23, 2009 11:09 AMReply

    mcouzijn - the art house market is indeed quite small. But one thing to take into account is that many European film markets receive government assistance, keeping them afloat.

  • mcouzijn | February 23, 2009 10:57 AMReply

    Really hard to believe for a European. How is it possible that many European small art-house movie distributors can survive in a continent where their markets are extremely small (due to the many languages, like Dutch, Croatian, Portuguese, Austrian, Slovak, Norse, Greek, you mention it) and that a well-known, experienced distributor with an Anglophone market as large as the whole US is not able to get things going?

    The US probably has an extraordinarily small art-house market. Or New Yorker films lived well above their means.

  • tom hall | February 23, 2009 9:09 AMReply

    Devastated... this is awful... Any word on who will picking up THREE MONKEYS!?!?

    My best to our friend Linda Duchin and the entire team at New Yorker... just awful...

  • dskolnick | February 23, 2009 8:50 AMReply

    Terrible news. What will happen to all those great movies in the New Yorker collection?

  • goodyerin | February 23, 2009 7:36 AMReply

    Awful news. I hate this economy.

  • mikejones | February 23, 2009 7:30 AMReply

    Very sad and extremely disturbing news.