A Tribute to Producer Don Ranvaud: "Cinema Loses One of Its Heroes" (Guest Column)

Don Ranvaud with Mike Downey - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of Mike Downey

Mike Downey, deputy chairman of the European Film Academy, calls the late 'City of God' producer, who died Monday, a "benign defender of artists."

Mike Downey, deputy chairman of the European Film Academy, was a close friend of British producer, writer and academic Don Ranvaud, who died suddenly on Monday in Montreal, where he was serving as a member of the jury at the Montreal World Film Festival.

Ranvaud produced such Oscar-nominated films as Chen Kaige's Farewell My Concubine, Fernando Meirelles' City of God and The Constant Gardener and Walter Salles' Central StationDowney penned this heartfelt appreciation of Ranvaud for The Hollywood Reporter:

Last weekend, world cinema lost one of its true heroes: Donald K. Ranvaud. Or abcD, as many of his close friends knew him.

Don was instrumental in bringing his friend, Willem Dafoe, to the Montreal Film Festival. He had dinner with him on Saturday night. As a jury member, in the afternoon, he watched my latest production, The Constitution, and with his characteristic enthusiasm and effusiveness emailed me: "… fantastic Mike … loved it as you know … really, congratulations from the heart … hermano simply brilliant … bought you the book about the camino2nd hand i hope you like … i am at the sofitel room 1405 when we meets??? Dinner manana? love abdD"

I never saw Don again.

Don and I were originally brought together many years ago, via academe, but as time passed and my interest spread from theater into the world of film, I became infected, enraged, inspired, infuriated and impassioned by Don’s love of cinema, art, zest for life and political zeal. I found that ultimately I had so much to learn from his views and perspectives, which will always be fundamental for my understanding of the world.

When Don taught at the U.K.'s University of Warwick (in the department of English and Comparative Literary Studies) and at the University of East Anglia, he combined the passion of the enthusiast with the seriousness of the academic. 

He came to Warwick because of Germaine Greer and E.P. Thompson, as many of us did. This was where our paths first crossed as I studied for my undergraduate degree. I was in awe of him at this time, when he also worked as a freelance journalist for MFB, Sight and Sound, The Guardian, La Repubblica, Cahiers du Cinema and American Film and founded the independent cinema and media magazine Framework.

Whether Don was engaged in a MEDIA Programme project, teaching or working as a film producer in China curating work by Chen Kaige, or in Latin America, where he produced Central do Brasil, Familia Rodante, Madame Sata and City of God, he was always a benign defender of artists, a kicker against the soulless suits.

But it was with the foundation of his production company Buena Onda that Don really explored his knack for discovering talent to the full. He championed all manner of Latin American cinema in Puerto Rico, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador and many other countries. And ultimately, as the creative producer for the Film4Climate initiative of Connect4Climate, a World Bank Group climate change communication program, his clean, intellectual energy trailed a blaze of inspiration wherever he went to proselytize its cause.

Don was a man who with his every contribution to art and knowledge made a difference — he changed the way people see the world.

This summer, Don and I went on a little pilgrimage. He came and spent a week with me on the jury at the festival I co-curate in Pula, Croatia. And then we went off to our alma mater Warwick University, where Don’s life and work was being celebrated by the bestowing of an honoris causa doctorate for his contribution to cinema. I have never seen him so thrilled, truly proud and humble and desperate for us to explore our old stomping ground in Leamington Spa — his student house in Woodbine Street, the Ashoka Indian restaurant and various other nooks and crannies that had special meaning for him. He was thrilled to the point of obsessively conserving our beer caps as memorabilia for his ever expanding collection … of everything.

Seeing Dr. Don, robed and Rembrandt-like on the stage accepting his degree from the chancellor, I cried tears of joy for someone who for once was justifiably being celebrated for doing good work and living a good life. And his acceptance speech was full of all kinds of generosity — and the "plugs" that Don could never resist making on any occasion at the drop of a hat for his passion du jour.

In retrospect, that journey and those events feel as if Don knew that he wasn’t long for this world. Don had very convincing views on his past life, his incarnations, and had recently come to peaceful terms with the ultimate acceptance of his own death. He was so enthused by my upcoming walk on the Camino de Santiago [an ancient network of pilgrim routes in Spain], he insisted that I read the book on the subject by his good friend Shirley MacLaine, with whom he shared many ideas on reincarnation. I failed to buy the book. He had found a second-hand bookshop in Montreal, bought it and planned to give it to me at our dinner.

The words of Jonathan Swift and Ignatius J. Reilly often sprung to mind when he embarked on another of his passion projects — “When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him.” Some of Don’s schemes were eccentric, but all were underpinned by a serious love for cinema, a passionate support for artists and a profound understanding of the creative process. And yes, there were dunces, naysayers with limited or tunnel vision. Donald K. Ranvaud was many things, but above all he was a true visionary.

As CEO and producer at London's Film and Music Entertainment, Downey has worked with such directors as Volker SchlondorffPawel Pawlikowski and Julien Temple and writers including Colm Toibin, Thomas Keneally, Rebecca Lenckiewicz, Gunter Grass and James Ellroy. He's done more than 60 films over the past 15 years, and his most recent production, of Rajko Grlic’s The Constitution, won the Prize of the Americas at the just concluded Montreal World Film Festival.