Jonathan Oppenheim, 'Paris Is Burning' Editor, Dies at 67

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Oppenheim worked on documentaries including 'The Oath,' 'Andre Gregory: Before and After Dinner' and 'Sister Helen' during his prolific career.

Jonathan Oppenheim, the documentary editor behind the seminal ball culture film Paris Is Burning as well as multiple Oscar-nominated titles, has died. He was 67.

Oppenheim died after a battle with brain cancer on Thursday, July 16 while in New York City, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed.

Born in 1952 in New York City to Oscar-winning actress Judy Holliday and clarinetist, television producer and academic David Oppenheim, Oppenheim began his working life as a painter before making his editing debut with 1980's Simon, which starred Alan Arkin. After working as an apprentice editor on Simon, Oppenheim moved up to the assistant film editor position with 1980's The Pilot, 1981's Arthur and 1984's The Muppets Take Manhattan. The same year as Muppets, Streetwise, a documentary on which Oppenheim was an associate editor, was nominated for 1985's Academy Award for best documentary, features.

Oppenheim earned his first top-billed editor credit on 1990's Paris Is Burning, which documented New York City's diverse ball culture scene over the course of several years and has become an iconic LGBTQ film. In the years following Paris Is Burning, he gravitated toward documentaries again and again, working on 1993's Hookers Hustlers Pimps and Their Johns, about prostitution in New York; 1997's Arguing the World, which profiled intellectuals Daniel Bell, Nathan Glazer, Irving Howe and Irving Kristol; 2001's Oscar-nominated Children Underground, which examined homeless children in Romania; and 2002's DGA nominee Sister Helen, regarding a nun who opened a rehabilitation facility for addicts.

Later in the aughts and 2010s, Oppenheim tackled schizophrenia (Out of the Shadow, 2004), a bad marriage (Phyllis and Harold, 2008), pop star Youssou Ndour (Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love, 2008), citizen reporting (High Tech, Low Life, 2012), entrepreneur William Kamkwamba (William and the Windmill, 2013), Venezuela's El Sistema (Crescendo! The Power of Music, 2014), Indian cinema lorries (The Cinema Travelers, 2016) and a Middle Eastern retreat bringing together Palestinians and Jews (In the Land of Pomegranates, 2018).

He also worked with Laura Poitras on her 2010 9/11 documentary The Oath and edited the André Gregory film Andre Gregory: Before and After Dinner (2013) and criminal justic doc Blowin' Up (2018). Oppenheim additionally consulted on films including How to Survive a Plague (2012), Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012) and Risk (2017). 

Oppenheim's wife, Josie, said in a statement, “Jonathan began his life in the arts as a painter which informed his sensibility in film. He was a talented and highly original painter but documentary film was his chosen medium. The collaborative dynamic while not always peaceful was one aspect of the work that Jonathan loved. But he found an outlet for his intellectual and artistic talents in all aspects of documentary film. I can say, as well, that the film community was profoundly important to him, and served as a nurturing soil allowing his very great talents to come into flower. But the community was important to us both really; friendships he forged became our friendships and our daughter’s family; became our community as we moved through our lives together."

Oppenheim is survived by Josie and daughter, Netalia. His family plans to announce plans to memorialize his life in the near future.