Ben Barenholtz, A Life in Film International Film Business

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by Peter Belsito
October 8, 2013 6:00 PM
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Ben Barenholtz and Sydney Levine
This week is Ben Barenholtz' birthday.

We'd like to celebrate by running 2 pieces on his amazing wonderful life.

This is his public bio, which in itself, tells of a rich wonderful career in film.

In the next days we'll publish his amazing memoir of his European childhood when he narrowly escaped from the hands of Jew killers during the War.


I personally owe Ben a lot. When I was producing some years back Ben was working for Almi and bought an indie film I produced 'Home Free All' by Director Stewart Bird for that company. The money from that deal paid our investors and took us out of a deep financial hole. I am always grateful to Ben for his vision and belief in us then.

Now for his professional bio -

Biography for Ben Barenholtz

Birth Name Benjamin Barenholtz

Mini Biography

As an exhibitor, distributor, and producer, Ben Barenholtz has been a key presence in the independent film scene since the late 1960s, when he opened the Elgin Cinema in New York City.

Barenholtz secured his first job in the film business when he became assistant manager of the RKO Bushwick Theater in Brooklyn in 1958. From 1966-68 he managed and lived in the Village Theater, which ultimately became the Filmore East. At the Village Theater Barenholtz provided a home for the counterculture, with appearances by Timothy Leary, Stokley Carmichael, Rap Brown, and Paul Krasner. Some of the first meetings of the anti-Vietnam War movement, including the Poets Against Vietnam, were held at the Village Theater. It was also a major music venue, with performances by The Who, Cream, Leonard Cohen, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Nina Simone and many others.

In 1968 he opened the Elgin Cinema. The theater became the world's most innovative specialty and revival house, relaunching the films of Buster Keaton and D.W. Griffith, running a variety of independent films by young American directors, and screening cult, underground, and experimental films for the emerging countercultural audience. The films of Stan Brakhage, Jack Smith, Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger, Jonas Mekas, and Andy Warhol, as well as early works by Jonathan Demme and Martin Scorsese, all played at the Elgin.

Peter Belsito, Ben Barenholtz, and Sydney Levine
Barenholtz also developed new ways of screening movies. He started screening dance and opera films on Saturday and Sunday mornings. He created the "All Night Show" - movies started at midnight and ended at dawn. Most notably, Barenholtz originated the "Midnight Movie" in 1970 with Alexander Jodorowsky's El Topo, which ran for 6 months, 7 days a week, to sold out audiences.

The film was eventually bought by John Lennon. El Topo was followed at midnight by John Waters' Pink Flamingoes and Perry Henzell's The Harder They Come. Barenholtz formed the specialty distributor Libra Films in 1972.


The first film Libra distributed was a revival of Jean-Pierre Melville's Les Enfants Terrible, followed by Claude Chabrol's Just Before Nightfall, and Jean-Charles Tacchella's Cousin, Cousine, which became one of the largest grossing foreign films in the US and was nominated for 3 Academy Awards.

Libra also launched and distributed, among others, George Romero's Martin, John Sayles' first feature Return of the Secaucus Seven, David Lynch's first feature Eraserhead, Karen Arthur's first feature Legacy, Earl Mack's first feature Children of Theater Street, and Peter Gothar's first feature Time Stands Still.

Barenholtz sold Libra Films to the Almi Group in 1982, but stayed with the company to become the President of Libra-Cinema 5 Films. In 1984 he left Almi and joined with Ted and Jim Pedas to form Circle Releasing. Among the films released by Circle were Yoshimitsu Morita's The Family Game, Guy Maddin's first feature Tales From the Gimli Hospital, Vincent Ward's The Navigator, John Woo's The Killer, Catherine Breillat's 36 Fillette, DeWitt Sage's first feature Pavarotti In China, Alain Cavalier's Therese, and Blood Simple, the first film by Joel and Ethan Coen.

His involvement in film production began with Wynn Chamberlain's Brand X and George Romero's Martin. He continued working with the Coens on the production of Raising Arizona, and as executive producer of Miller's Crossing and Barton Fink, which won the Palme d'Or at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival, as well as awards for Best Director and Best Actor. This was the first and last time the three top honors have all gone to the same film at Cannes.

Ben Barenholtz
Barenholtz went on to produce George Romero's Bruiser, J Todd Anderson's The Naked Man, Adek Drabinski's Cheat, executive-produced Gregory Hines' directorial debut Bleeding Hearts and Ulu Grossbard's Georgia, which earned an Academy Award nomination for Mare Winningham. He served as co-executive producer of Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream, which earned Ellen Burstyn an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in 2000.

Barenholtz appeared in the documentary The Hicks in Hollywood, had a bit role in Liquid Sky, and appeared as a zombie in Romero's classic Dawn of the Dead. He was the main subject of Stuart Samuels' 2005 documentary Midnight Movies: From the Margin to the Mainstream.

Barenholtz directed his first feature, Music Inn, a documentary about the famed jazz venue.

Barenholtz was the producer of Jamie Greenberg's feature film Stags.

In 2012, Barenholtz produced Suzuya Bobo's first feature Family Games.

Barenholtz has recently completed directing and post production on Wakaliwood the Documentary, which was shot entirely in Kampala, Uganda. The film will be released in 2013.

He is now developing two feature fiction films which begin production in 2013.

IMDb Mini Biography By: Ben Barenholtz

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