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by Eugene Hernandez
June 16, 2010 3:30 AM
26 Comments
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Writer Peter Brunette Dies at Italian Festival

Film critic and author Peter Brunette, a frequent contributor to indieWIRE in recent years, died this morning in Italy while attending the Taormina Film Festival.

Brunette, who was at the Italian festival this week as a contributor to The Hollywood Reporter, reportedly suffered a heart attack during breakfast today at a local hotel.

A professor of film studies and director of the film studies program at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, Peter Brunette has been a frequent contributor to numerous film publications including Screen International, The Hollywood Reporter and indieWIRE.

Peter Brunette has written many books, including numerous examinations of individual filmmakers, including Roberto Rossellini, Michelangelo Antonioni and Wong Kar-wai. His latest, "Michael Haneke," is the first full-length look at the Austrian filmmaker. Brunette also served as the editor for the filmmaker interview series of books at the University Press of Mississippi. He has also served as a commentator on numerous DVDs.

Brunette received a B.A. from Duquesne University in 1965 and a Masters from the same university in 1967. He received a PhD in English and Film from the University of Wisconsin in 1975. He served as a lecturer at the Sorbonne in Paris, an instructor at the University of Maryland and George Mason University before joining Wake Forest University in 2004.

A fixture at international film festivals including Cannes, Berlin, Toronto and others, Brunette could often be found at the center of a discussion about the movies, in passionate discussions before or after screenings among a circle of colleagues.

"Brunette studies art films — films intended to be serious artistic, not commercial works," offered a profile by Wake Forest earlier this year. "Brunette, who teaches courses on Asian, European and American independent film, says he's not against blockbuster movies, but he encourages students to also look at art films."

"People should watch art films for the same reason they should read Virginia Woolf as well as Tom Clancy," Peter Brunette told the Wake Forest publication, "These are films that have power and stay with you and can teach you something about life. Watch them for the same reason you would go to a museum to look at Vermeer. Don't get me wrong. I like pop culture too. I watch the TV show '24' like a hawk and I loved 'The Sopranos.' But, there is a place for films that challenge preconceptions... for films that explore the meaning of being human in an important way."

Brunette was working on a book about Italian filmmaker Luchino Visconti.

Peter Brunette's criticWIRE page is available here on indieWIRE.

indieWIRE sends its deepest condolences to Peter Brunette's loved ones and invites his friends and colleagues to post comments or memories at the end of this article.

26 Comments

  • Andrew C | February 4, 2011 8:20 AMReply

    Just discovered this today. Sad. I had him as a professor in a number of English and film/TV courses at George Mason University from '95-97. He was my favorite professor there. Sorry to see you go, Peter!

  • michael berube | October 31, 2010 12:51 PMReply

    tosser cinephile

  • mkelner | June 25, 2010 2:03 AMReply

    Peter was my professor and a guiding light in inspiring me, and so many others, towards a life where movies are part of one’s heart and their dreams. I vividly remember every passionate talk, every critique of a paper, every defense of an idea. Years ago, I spent about two hours in a video store looking for a tape of Godard’s "Breathless," which was then highly out-of-print. Having found it, I rather arrogantly brought it to class proclaiming that I’ve just seen a work of art that has redefined anything I’ve ever thought was possible in cinema. Revolutionary! Life-changing! Peter got the drift and spoke eloquently without cracking too much of a smile.

    “Mark, for you to come into the classroom and zealously whip out 'Breathless' extolling its virtues to anyone willing to listen… Is the equivalent of someone coming to church on Sunday claiming they discovered a brand new and astonishingly original book called 'The Bible.'”

    We all had a good laugh. And that was Peter... Full of warmth, understanding, always accessible, and deeply sincere, even when what he was saying wasn’t always pleasant to hear. It’s the job of a good teacher to better his students as people, not just sharpen their minds. It’s not for me to say if he’s succeeded, but I still try everyday to emulate his patience (with me especially) and his smarts. In the end, he did help me find my ‘church.'

    This is a great loss for film lovers and filmmakers everywhere. RIP Padre, you will never be forgotten.

    - Mark Kelner

  • NataschaNYC | June 20, 2010 10:42 AMReply

    Catherine Verret Vimont is currently traveling and asked me to post this on her behalf:

    It is with such sorrow that I read today the tragic news of Peter Brunette's brutal passing... He was a gentle man, a wonderful human being. He did so much for films and especially for French films, with his great knowledge and understanding of French cinema. His open mind and his generosity will always be remembered. He was a friend. To his family, for myself and on behalf of so many artists in France, I want to express our sadness, deepest regrets and condolences.

    - Catherine Verret Vimont

  • ronald bergan | June 18, 2010 2:41 AMReply

    I am stunned. The last time I saw him was in Berlin where we had a very pleasant Chinese meal in the arcade. Although slightly jet- lagged, he seemed his genial self. Peter had the knack of defending the most avant-garde and obscure films without ever sounding pompous or superior, something I should have learnt from him. I also wish I'd known him better and longer as I only met him every year briefly at festivals. I'm thankful to him for recommending me as editor of Truffaut interviews in the excellent Conversations with Filmmakers series on which Peter was general editor.

  • sharon j kahn | June 17, 2010 5:29 AMReply

    Reading through these comments, I just hope that Peter knew how much he was respected and cared for.

  • rabbi | June 17, 2010 4:58 AMReply

    Sharon, I think there's no doubt that Peter knew he was loved. I never heard a bad word said about him and reading these comments and those on Twitter (do a search for his name and you'll see the outpouring) makes me even happier that I called him friend and sadder for our collective loss. He was a gentle, joyous soul and he will be missed.

    -Mark Rabinowitz

  • dzwmm | June 17, 2010 1:38 AMReply

    I am in shock. Peter was a good festival friend - the kind that you were always happy to run into, the kind that made you think AND made you laugh. He was also a wonderful supporter of Women Make Movies. When we were under attack from the right wing for getting NEA funding and distributing lesbian films he was one of the writers who championed us. He was kind, smart and funny - with a tremendous generosity of spirit. I will really miss him. Thanks for being you, Peter. Debra Zimmerman

  • Andrew@RiverRun | June 16, 2010 8:34 AMReply

    This is terrible news... and a tragic loss. Peter was a great friend — both to me personally, and to all of us at RiverRun. Quite simply, he was a part of our family and integral to the fabric of our Festival. (At this point, I can hear him joke and say that he felt more like "furniture" than "fabric.")

    He taught just down the road at Wake Forest University, so we were fortunate to have frequent opportunities to see and spend time with him (too little time, I now realize), when he wasn't traveling the world.

    Beyond simply serving on our juries or moderating panels year after year, he was a consummate cheerleader and supporter for all that we were doing. I can truly say that his involvement and participation in RiverRun, his hometown festival, affected a great many people.

    In recent years he had experienced some ups and downs, but through it all he managed to somehow keep life in perspective and maintain a healthy balance. As Lisa pointed out, he wasn't one who enjoyed movies to the exclusion of other things — he was truly a lover of life and experiences. To be sure, there were most certainly no dark clouds following him around.

    His time here was too short... and his absence will be great. — Andrew Rodgers

  • camperdown elm | June 16, 2010 8:14 AMReply

    Peter was a great expert and lover of Italian cinema, and I'm very sad for the world's loss today. It's also very much worth noting that he was a frequent and prolific contributor to the New York Times in the early to mid-nineties and beyond. If this link works you should be able to see his many, many articles for the publication:

    http://query.nytimes.com/search/sitesearch?query=peter+brunette&more=date_all

    During our last conversation he told me that one day he opened the paper to find three Arts & Leisure features with his by line. This tickled him. I'll miss our exuberant, if somewhat infrequent, conversations.

    Buon viaggo Peter, sarai sempre nei nostri cuori!

  • seaton | June 16, 2010 8:13 AMReply

    I am devastaed to hear this news. Peter has long been one of my favorite people. Happily I saw him at Cannes where we caught up and I was delighted to hear how well his life was going. I will miss him.

  • kinograph | June 16, 2010 7:46 AMReply

    I had the pleasure of knowing Peter way back... he'd come to Montréal in August for the World Film Festival. His curiosity was boundless, as was his generosity - and lust for life. Festivals will be a sadder place without him.

  • kurcfeld | June 16, 2010 7:34 AMReply

    I was fortunate enough to have worked with Peter on the making-of documentary on the DVD of Fellini’s “City of Women.” He was an astute historian & theorist bristling with ideas about every scene, a telegenic raconteur, and a consummate professional who made my job a breeze. Peter’s passionate love of cinema (and certainly of Fellini’s ribald film) was contagious, and unpretentious, which I imagine made him a wonderful teacher. He was also a lovely man who faced the tedious moments of production with humor and composure. I’m very sorry to hear of his passing. — Michael Kurcfeld

  • Lisa Nesselson | June 16, 2010 7:16 AMReply

    Peter was a gentleman and a scholar, a consummate mensch. As one who has also taught a few university film courses that ended right before Cannes, I admired his ability to grade papers, get final grades in, hop a plane across the ocean and start cranking out fast, sharp trade reviews. I was once a guest lecturer (on Gaspar Noe's "Irreversible") when Peter brought a group of students to Paris and I got to observe firsthand how he prepared his class for a potentially difficult film experience, something he handled very well indeed. The first time I went to Palm Springs, in January of 2000, Peter did a wonderful riff on how you'd have to be nuts to put up with the aggravation in Sundance when you could see a great cross-section of foreign fare under infinitely warmer and more logistically welcoming conditions. (I've never attended Sundance and have been known to brave blizzards, crippling transit strikes and even demonstrations-with-teargas to see a film, but Peter's funny analysis made sense.) His speaking voice was soothing in a low, rumbly way. I can't imagine anybody thinking "Oh no -- there's Peter, I have to make sure he doesn't see me!" It was always a pleasure to see him and interact with him. One year when we were all at the Viennale, he told me and my husband "What I love about this event is that I can enjoy outstanding sight-seeing in the morning and then see great movies in the afternoon and evening." I couldn't have agreed more, but when I feigned shock and said "But Peter -- you mean to say if there was a potentially terrific film that's only being shown in the morning, you'd actually skip it and go to a museum or stare at architecture instead?" he replied, "Hey -- they're only movies!"
    "Only" movies. Yeah, right -- the same way Peter Brunette was "only" a fine teacher, an enthusiastic, hard working critic and a warm, positive human being.
    Lisa Nesselson, Paris

  • Mira Advani Honeycutt | June 16, 2010 6:25 AMReply

    Peter loved film, but beyond that he loved life! He was our constant companion at major film festivals such as Cannes, Berlin and Toronto. And after screenings we'd get together for some good food and wine.
    I dearly admired Peter and his passion for everything that the good life offered.
    And what a master of languages was this lovable man. He would be at home in any part of the world. However, when he joined us at our annual Indian dinner during the Berlin film festival this year, he heard me speak in Hindi and was fascinated by it and admitted this is one of the few languages he did not know. He was planning a trip to India this year and I was certain he would return with a good knowledge of Hindi.
    I will miss his joy and laughter.
    Mira Advani Honeycutt

  • sharon j kahn | June 16, 2010 6:24 AMReply

    A gentle soul with a deep intellect and an easy sense of humor, Peter was one of the people who make publicizing films feel like a worthwhile endeavor. I wanted him to see the films I repped because he was an independent thinker, and whether or not he liked the films, what he had to say was thoughtful, stunningly well informed and often enlightening. Though we had contact year-round in the years that Peter was writing features for various newspapers, mostly, I knew him as a "festival buddy," as one of those key people we all have who makes a festival feel like home turf. Back a few years ago, when schedules permitted, there were a couple of times that Peter included me in his ritual first-day breakfast with a group of critics from several different countries—as perfect a way to start the festival as I can imagine. Since then, the best of what Cannes has to offer—the beautiful morning sun of the Riviera, a good strong cafe au lait, terrific conversation, and a real love of film—are all things I associate with Peter.

  • shane danielsen | June 16, 2010 6:18 AMReply

    Bearish, funny, with a voice like a chasm. Unfailingly generous with his time, his knowledge and his friendship. Always eager to hear other opinions, other points of view. Passionate, but never, ever arrogant. A lot of critics could learn from his example; I know I did.

    Dear, good, gentle man. You were much loved, and are much missed. RIP.

    Shane & Vanessa

  • Gary Springer | June 16, 2010 6:17 AMReply

    It is very sad to hear this. Peter was one of the good guys and I always enjoyed seeing, and talking with, him in various places around the world. He was always one to accept my party invitations and we would always have a lot of laughs. Alas...

  • linda o | June 16, 2010 5:51 AMReply

    I had the pleasure of meeting and spending some time with Peter at Morelia Film Fest in Mexico. What a nice man who clearly had a wealth of cinematic knowledge and was living his passion. He made quite an impact and will be missed on the fest circuit and beyond. RIP Peter.

  • indiewendy | June 16, 2010 5:42 AMReply

    Such sad news. When I became an editor at indieWIRE and went to my first international festival, the Viennale, Peter really took me under his wing -- and helped me to understand Antonioni without making me feel like a total idiot. He was a delight to work with, and even when we weren't working together, he was such a warm and generous man to run into at festivals around the world. I'm going to miss him.
    Wendy Mitchell

  • AMench19 | June 16, 2010 4:47 AMReply

    Andrew and others, your words are so wonderfully elegant…
    In addition to all the incredible things Eugene mentions in his article, Peter also served as the Artistic Director and Washington D.C. moderator (for 17 years) for a film society I now run called The Cinema Club (formerly the Key Sunday Cinema Club). His place in front of an audience of appreciative film buffs was a thing to behold – he loved to talk film but more important, he loved to educate an audience.
    I’ve known Peter for some 20 years now and his loss to the film world is massive and heartbreaking.
    But Peter was also truly one of the most generous people I’ve ever known, a mentor in my life both professionally and personally, and he had so much more to give all of us. When you had Peter’s attention he could make you feel everything was alright in the world, even if just for that brief moment. Certainly, everything is far from alright at this moment…and Peter, I will miss you always, ‘big guy!’

    Andy Mencher

  • rabbi | June 16, 2010 4:22 AMReply

    Very nice words, Andrew. We're all diminished by his loss. It's not that I feel bad about what I wrote. Everyone will know what I meant, but I think Stephen certainly phrased the sentiment better. Peter was an exceptional writer and as such, I feel like he deserved better than the "small comfort" line. I picture him reading this, looking at me and saying "Really? You went with 'small comfort'?" and shaking his head. :-)

  • andohehir | June 16, 2010 4:07 AMReply

    I'm shocked and saddened by this news. I had admired Peter's writing for years, and got to know him a little when we both served on a jury at the Riverrun festival in Winston-Salem, N.C., last year. There are too many critics and film people with little knowledge of the world outside the theater, but Peter was a bracing antidote to that.

    Peter was an old-school Renaissance man, a committed cinephile with wide-ranging tastes that included literature, history, languages, wine, food and travel. I was really looking forward to becoming his friend; when I saw him at Cannes, we hugged hello and promised to have a drink that now won't happen. More important, of course, we've all lost his intelligence, his wit, his agile erudition and his catholic sphere of interests and influences.

    Even in the short time I knew him, I became aware that Peter was a man who had suffered considerable heartbreak, of the kind that makes it difficult to keep going. Don't feel bad for what you said, rabbi -- Peter was doing what he loved. But he was taken from us far too early and it's a great loss for those of us who think cinema still matters -- and not as an isolated and self-contained realm, but as a vital current of artistic, philosophical and moral inquiry, a necessary fount of life.

    --Andrew O'Hehir, Salon.com

  • rabbi | June 16, 2010 3:54 AMReply

    I wish I could edit what I wrote. On further reflection, there's no small comfort to be taken from how he passed away. I regret writing that. It's an empty platitude and Peter deserved better.

  • sbgarrett | June 16, 2010 3:53 AMReply

    Here, here. I totally agree with everything Mark wrote. What a tremendous loss in the film community and especially among film critics. Peter was such a generous spirit in every way, especially as a conversationalist, with a keen mind, a warm heart and a true curiosity about dissenting opinions. I'm really going to miss seeing him on the film circuit and hearing his insights. Here's hoping we all pass away doing what we love. R.I.P., my friend.

  • rabbi | June 16, 2010 3:46 AMReply

    I'm absolutely shocked. In some cases, people are sanctified in death beyond all reason but I feel comfortable in saying that Peter was one of the kindest, most thoughtful, intelligent and good humored people I have ever had the luck and pleasure to call a friend. He was a devoted lover of film and I suppose there is some small comfort to be taken in that he died doing what he loved, watching and writing about cinema.

    Rest in Peace, Peter.