Independent Filmmakers Remember the Late Bingham Ray

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Michael Rauner

Producer BIngham Ray, says actress Emily Watson, "embraced the dark and the difficult."

Friends and colleagues -- from Robert Redford to Tom Rothman -- reflect on his contributions to the industry and a life cut short during this year's Sundance.

Bingham Ray was such a welcome figure -- with an irrepressible, sometimes wicked wit -- on the independent film scene that his sudden death Jan. 23, from complications of a stroke at age 57, sent shockwaves through the Sundance Film Festival. Ray, who leaves behind his wife, Nancy King, and three children, had been on his way to Park City to scout movies in his newest role as executive director of the San Francisco International Film Festival. Throughout his influential career, he had an eye for interesting, challenging films. First at October Films, which he co-founded, then at United Artists, Ray introduced U.S. moviegoers to modern European masters like Mike Leigh and Lars von Trier and championed American upstarts like Michael Moore. Says producer and sales agent Cassian Elwes, "If it wasn't for him and Harvey Weinstein, there would be no independent film business." – Gregg Kilday

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Tom Rothman
Chairman and CEO, Fox Filmed Entertainment

"He was irrepressible and irreplaceable. The very fact that a movie was an underdog is what excited him. Bingham had what you have to have to be a longtime warrior in the indie fight: above all, conviction, belief  and boundless energy. And that's what seems so hard to believe, that someone so alive could be gone."

Cassian Elwes
Producer and sales agent

"He was always pushing the envelope. When he bought The Apostle, he had only seen 45 minutes of it. He realized that it was way too long, which I did too, which is why I tried to sell it 45 minutes into it. So he brought in Walter Murch, who was the sound designer on Apocalypse Now, and Walter Murch re-cut the movie and sent it back to Robert Duvall [who directed the film], and Duvall said, 'I don't even know what was cut,' and it was half an hour shorter. It was always kind of brilliant moves like that. He had fabulous taste and understood what you could do with an independent movie if you had a good one on your hands. That's rare."

PHOTOS: The Scene at Sundance Film Festival 2012

Robert Redford
Founder, The Sundance Institute

"We lost a true warrior for independent voice with the passing of Bingham Ray. He was a valued member of the Sundance family for as long as I can remember and mentored countless seminal storytellers, bringing their work to the world. Most important, he was a humanist and a profoundly good human being who lived a life that meant something."

Dan Ireland

"I remember giving him a sob story of how we made no money playing one of his films at The Egyptian, that he was charging us through the nose. Without a second's hesitation he renegotiated our deal, because he wanted us to stay in business. No one else was ever so kind. Bingham was the coolest of guys, with a huge heart and a smile that could light up a room."

Geoffrey Gilmore
Tribeca Enterprises

"He had so much knowledge of the biz and yet we mostly remember him for his joie de vivre, for his delivery on a panel and his late-night storytelling. He was such a joy to be around and a huge figure in our world. Bingham was a human being who really understood other human beings and I'll always miss him."

FILMOGRAPHY: Ray championed difficult projects and ushered them to acclaim

  • Secrets & Lies (1996): An early Mike Leigh classic
  • Breaking the Waves (1996): Our intro to Lars von Trier  
  • The Apostle (1997): Robert Duvall as a radio preacher
  • No Man's Land (2001): A Bosnian War Oscar winner
  • Bowling For Columbine (2002) Michael Moore on gun violence
  • Hotel Rwanda (2004) Don Cheadle saving Tutsis