Days after the memorial service for Bingham Ray that took place at New York’s Paris Theater, the Berlin International Film Festival hosted a smaller makeshift tribute February 13 to the veteran distributor who died suddenly last month during the Sundance Film Festival.
Director Mike Leigh, currently in Berlin as the president of the competition jury, attended the ceremony and spoke about his relationship with Ray, who was responsible during his time at October Films for garnering an Oscar nomination for Leigh’s “Secrets and Lies.”
A clip reel was shown after Leigh’s speech, where a news segment from the ’90s showed Ray’s reaction when the “Secrets and Lies” nomination for Best Picture was announced. Leigh smiled and gestured to the screen in deference to Ray’s legacy.
Other speakers included Tribeca Film’s Geoff Gilmore, Cinetic Media’s John Sloss, Sony Pictures Classics’ Michael Barker and indie film distributor Ben Barenholtz, who said he flew to Berlin with Ray last year.
Barenholtz noted that Ray had, in recent years, began adding the words “in my pants” to the end of movie titles as a running joke. A few weeks ago, Barenholtz emailed Ray the title of a movie he recommended for the San Francisco Film Society, where Ray had just begun his new job. “In my pants,” came the reply.
It was the last email Barenholtz received from his friend.
A transcript of Mike Leigh’s brief speech follows:
The first day I met Bingham Ray was at the Toronto International Film Festival in 1981. He was interested in distributing my film “Life is Sweet.” I met him and within hours, we were walking around the festival, and he was saying to everybody, “Hey! This is Mike Leigh, Spike Lee’s son!”
That was Bingham Ray. Here’s the thing: If you’ve never experienced Bingham Ray singing “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady” in the style of Groucho Marx–he did a better Groucho than Groucho. My phone would ring in London and he would say, “Hey, Mike Leigh,” and we’d launch into one of those Bingham conversations.
His imagination, his passion, his wonderful, endless naivete combined with sophistication. It’s been said that he was completely honest. For those of us who knew him and loved him and monitored the ups and downs of his checkered career, this is a man who was undoubtedly stabbed in the back by people — all of us here know that — and we know that, to some considerable extent, he was a victim of his own innocence. He had a genuine belief in people. The news of his death comes, for all of us, out of nowhere.
All of us in the film game fall into categories: We’re this type of director, that type of festival director, or journalist, or whatever. Bingham Ray was in his own unique category. Nobody could ever, in any shape or form, fill that gap. For the rest of time, we’ve got two words to say: “Bingham Ray.” And we will cry and we will try.