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Remembering Mark Urman, an Independent Film Stalwart Gone Too Soon

Urman died last weekend after a distinguished, decade-spanning career.

Mark Urman

Mark Urman

The following remembrance was written by Deborah Davis, Mark Urman’s wife.

From Anatole Litvak’s “Anastasia,” the first movie he saw as a child at a picture palace in the Bronx, to Bradley Cooper’s “A Star Is Born” (his choice for this year’s Best Picture), Mark Urman was a man with a boundless passion for cinema. In the course of his nearly 50 years in film, Mark felt blessed to work with some of the greatest luminaries in the business, from Joseph Losey, David Lean, and Bernardo Bertolucci to Roman Polanski, Sydney Lumet, and Julian Schnabel.

He also delighted in encouraging talents as they emerged, including Ryan Gosling, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, Lynette Howell, Jamie Patricof, Christian Bale, Liv Tyler, Marc Forster, Natasha Richardson, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Kevin Smith, Cary Fukunaga, Lee Daniels, and Bill Condon.

Mark was born in the Bronx on November 24, 1952, the son of Holocaust survivors Felix Urman and Michele Golubczyck and the younger brother of Dorothy Urman Denburg. He grew up in Brooklyn, where he attended public school, including James Madison High School.

His film career began at Union College, where with a few friends, he ran a weekend film program that exhibited classic films. Admission was one dollar, which meant that Mark was rich in singles at the end of every showing. He always joked that he had more disposable income in college than he had at any other point in his life.

Union College was the setting for his storybook meeting with the love of his life, Deborah Davis. The two 18-year-olds met “cute,” as they say in the business, in a seminar, “The English Novel from Defoe to Hardy,” where they battled wits until they fell in love and stayed that way for the next 47 years. Mark’s first job after college was in the mailroom at Universal Pictures. It was a more innocent time – so he simply showed up at the personnel office, applied for a position, and got one practically on the spot.

Subsequently, he worked in publicity at United Artists, Triumph Films, Columbia Pictures, and Dennis Davidson Associates before becoming the President of Film Distribution at Cinepix Film Properties and then Lionsgate. Cinepix Film Properties films include “Love and Death on Long Island,” “The Daytrippers,” Peter Greenaway’s “The Pillow Book,” and a number of other highly acclaimed foreign films including “The Young Poisoner’s Handbook,” “Cyclo,” “Il Mostro,” and “Guantanamera.” Lionsgate films include “Buffalo 66,” “Gods and Monsters,” “Affliction,” “American Psycho,” “Dogma,” “The Red Violin” “Amores Perros,” nine Academy Award nominations, and three Oscars. Upon leaving Lionsgate, Mark executive produced the Academy Award–winning “Monster’s Ball.”

THINKFilm, founded in 2001, was the setting for Mark’s next chapter in film distribution. The company was the beloved home of all indie filmmakers who treasured his wisdom, vision, passion, and humor. He launched narrative documentaries into center stage and helped them to become an important part of the awards conversation. THINKFilm garnered eight Academy Award® nominations in seven years, winning two.

These acclaimed campaigns included the Oscar-nominated documentaries “Spellbound,” “The Story of the Weeping Camel,” “Murderball,” “War/Dance,” Werner Herzog’s “Encounters at the End of the World” and Academy Award® winners “Born into Brothels,” “Taxi to the Darkside,” and “Nanking.” Other notable titles released at THINK included Jonathan Demme’s acclaimed documentary “The Agronomist”, “Half Nelson,” which generated a Best Actor Oscar nomination for its star Ryan Gosling and a Gotham Award for Best Feature Film; Sidney Lumet’s “Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead,” and Helen Hunt’s directorial debut “Then She Found Me.”

In 2009, Mark opened Paladin, where he championed the concept of DIY distribution, helping filmmakers to reach their best audiences in the best possible way. With Amanda Sherwin, his beloved associate for more than 20 years, he continued to champions films large and small with his eloquent voice and magnificent vocabulary.

Paladin releases include “Disgrace,” starring John Malkovich, Tom Shadyac’s documentary “I Am,” Michel Gondry’s “The We and The I,” the Deepa Mehta/Salman Rushdie collaboration of Rushdie’s celebrated novel, “Midnight’s Children,” Leslee Udwin’s Peabody Award–winning documentary “India’s Daughter,” the highly acclaimed comedy “What We Do in the Shadows” (co-written, co-directed, and starring Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement), and most recently “Bel Canto” starring Julianne Moore and Ken Watanabe and “Stella’s Last Weekend,” written and directed by Polly Draper and starring Draper and her sons Nat Wolff and Alex Wolff.

As passionate as he was about his work, Mark was famous for his dedication to his family. His wife, Deborah, was never far from his thoughts or his side, especially since Mark, a confirmed New Yorker despite the fact that he lived in New Jersey, never learned how to drive. He considered his children, Oliver and Cleo, his greatest achievements, and seized every opportunity to enumerate their many accomplishments to anyone who would listen.

Oliver Davis-Urman, who is married to Jessica Cox, is a sales executive at WeWork. Cleo Davis-Urman, who is married to Richard Miller (they married in in the hospital ICU last week so Mark could participate in the ceremony), is an experienced fashion executive who currently is the Director of Special Projects for Saks Fifth Avenue.

Mark lived with his wife, children, and mother-in-law, Jean Gatto, in Montclair, New Jersey for 29 years. He died of respiratory failure on January 12, 2019, after a ridiculously short, weeklong battle against cancer.

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