Hollywood mourns loss of Indie film visionary

LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) - The film community is mourning the death of Indie veteran Bingham Ray on Monday following a stroke.

Ray was only 57 when he died after suffering a stroke at the Sundance Film Festival.

Head of the San Francisco Film Festival when he died, Ray had been a co-founder of October Films, and later headed United Artists.

October was folded into USA Films, which later became Focus Features. And on Monday, James Schamus, CEO of Focus Features, mourned the loss of his fellow indie veteran.

"All of us at Focus are blessed to know that Bingham -- the very definition of an independent spirit -- is part our DNA," Schamus said in a statement to TheWrap. "If anyone could claim paternity of us, it would be he.

"I wish, on behalf of all my colleagues here, I had something meaningful and resonant to say, but the loss is too sudden and too great -- I simply refuse, at least for this one day, to speak of Bingham in the past tense."

"It's a tremendous loss," Joe Pichirallo, a former producer who is now undergraduate chair of the Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film & Television at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, told TheWrap. "He will be remembered for his charm, wicked humor and his passion for films. No one was more passionate about films than Bingham."

One of the first things Pichirallo did upon joining NYU was ask Bingham to teach strategies for independent film producing.

"I knew he'd be a great teacher because he has been a great mentor, and I'm so glad he had that opportunity," Pichirallo said.

Eddie Schmidt, the Academy Award-nominated producer of the 2006 "This Film Is Not Yet Rated," remembered Ray as "a protector and defender of artists and their visions."

He said that Ray was "tenacious and adaptable to the times as things change in the industry, and those are qualities that are rare."

Ray appeared in "This Film Is Not Yet Rated," in which he said, describing the MPAA ratings board, "I'm going to use the F-word. It's a fascist system. I believe it's a fascist organization."

Schmidt recalled the movie's premiere at, in fact, the Sundance Film Festival.

"He was there," Schmidt said, "and he slapped me on the back and said, 'Way to go,' and that was actually very meaningful."

In an email to TheWrap, the critic Roger Ebert said that "at every festival I attended, Bingham was always there, always friendly, never rushed, always curious, always searching for good films. He had good taste, and sometimes was more optimistic about a film's box office prospects than its makers were. Outside the business, people like Bingham Ray are below the radar, but any movie lover checking his credits at IMDb would realize they had many reasons to be thankful to him."

"I am shocked and heartbroken by his passing," said Chris McGurk, who knew Ray for 20 years. "He was a brilliant, supportive voice for independent film and we will all miss him dearly," he told TheWrap. "His passion, fire and spirit will live on inside all of us who knew him and whose lives he touched. My heart goes out to his wife, Nancy, and his family.

McGurk, now the CEO of Cinedigm Corp., is the former vice chair and COO of MGM and the former president and COO of Universal Pictures. While at MGM, he brought Ray on as president of United Artists. When he was at Universal, that company bought October Films.

Rick Allen, the CEO of SnagFilms and Indiewire -- where Ray was a consultant -- said in a statement that "the film world knew him as a fierce champion of artists, always looking for new ways to spotlight their work and increasing their freedom to create it. At SnagFilms and Indiewire, we knew this track record when we asked Bingham to join us and help chart the next phase of our growth."

He added, "What I did not know until we had the chance to work together was how brilliant, honorable and hysterically funny Bingham Ray was."

Allen said that Ray "taught all of us the context for our efforts -- the history of independent film in and before our time. ... He infused everything with his unquenchable passion for film, filmmakers and the audiences who love them. And he made us laugh very, very hard and often."

Teri Schwartz, dean of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, called Ray "a true visionary" who was "universally respected by the entire filmmaking community. He was a friend, supporter and mentor to so many filmmakers. His remarkable intellect, generous spirit and passion for films will be sorely missed."


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