Cannes: Indie Film Industry Remembers Robbie Little

Robbie Little - Getty - H 2018
Araya Diaz/Getty Images for The Exchange

Ahead of a tribute to be held at the festival, friends and colleagues share their memories of the beloved British producer and sales agent.

As Cannes kicks off, the independent film industry is paying tribute to veteran British producer and sales agent Robbie Little, who died in London last week while en route to the market.

The co-president of The Little Film Company was widely admired, even beloved, by his colleagues, many of whom cite him as a mentor and inspiration.

"He really created this business of independent film sales, he was the one who got it started," said Brian O'Shea, CEO of The Exchange, who worked at Overseas Film Group, the company Little and his wife Ellen founded in the early 1980s as one of the world's first independent film sales outfits. “It's almost too perfect that he died on his way to Cannes. This business was his life.”

“Robbie was an original and a pioneer,” said Michael Ryan, chairman of the Independent Film and Television Association, which runs the American Film Market. “When we had the idea to start the AFM, Robbie was one of the first to jump in with his investment. He then served on many of the boards as the AFM and IFTA grew."

Not many people know he was a good bass player and coming from Liverpool, was there when those four boys rocked the world. We will miss his impish humor and his championing of the independent film family.”

Added IFTA president and CEO Jean Prewitt: “Robbie was one of the small group of far-sighted sales agents who created IFTA and launched the AFM in 1980 and he remained a valued and outspoken member of our community. We grieve the loss of his love of film, his sarcastic wit and his loyalty to the independent industry he helped build.”

In addition to trademark humor, Little's generosity was repeatedly mentioned, how he always helped out newcomers to the industry with support and advice.

“I’m blessed that Robbie was one of my early mentors in the film industry,” said publicist Lon Haber. “His joie de vivre and straight-talk mixed together like the perfect cocktail. Out of the many things he taught me, perhaps the most important is something I have thought every day for over 15 years, when he told me, walking down the Croisette to a party after a highly successful premiere (my first), 'You should be be proud of who you are and what you are capable of and see yourself as the world sees you — when you want to get something done, you just do it — it’s that simple. Now go and do it!”

“After my dad, I have lived and learnt the world I now live in through him,” added Gianluca Chakra of Middle East distributor Front Row, recalling a time as a child when he phoned Little's office after seeing the poster for horror film From Beyond. "They kindly put me through to him during a dinner in Cannes and to calm me down, he made me talk to Steven Spielberg, who told me not get scared."

"Robbie was more than a mentor, he was a friend and will continue to be my voice of reason throughout my career," said Film Mode Entertainment's Clay Epstein. "No one matched his respectable business ethics and set such high level of standard in his work and the way he dealt with friends and colleagues. He was one of the funniest people I knew and I will miss sharing that unstoppable laugh together we had so many times during our friendship. My heart goes out to his lovely wife Ellen, who has also been a mentor and friend for many years."

“One of the characteristics of Robbie was he was generous with everyone, never aggressive or competitive,” added Jerome Paillard, executive director of the Cannes Film Market. “He was always open and willing to share his experience, something that's not often found in this business.”

Little worked on more than 300 films in his career, including Waking Ned Devine, An American Haunting and Before Night Falls. He executive produced South African drama Tsotsi, which won the 2006 Oscar for best foreign-language film. He is survived by his wife, Little Film co-president Ellen.

Friends and colleges of Little will hold a tribute to the man in Cannes on Sunday, May 13 at the Members Club at Plage 45 from 6:30 p.m. until 9 p.m. Organizers said anyone who knew Little is welcome to attend.

A version of this story appears in The Hollywood Reporter's May 8 daily issue from the Cannes Film Festival. Click here to download.