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Not News But Ruminations

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by Sydney Levine
January 28, 2012 11:42 PM
5 Comments
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Bingham Ray 1954 - 2012

This is not in the nature of news but of ruminations.  I am still thinking of Bingham, and others who have died too soon in our world of independent film...We all are aware of Donald Krim and of

Wouter Barendrecht 1965 - 2009
Wouter Barendrecht
.  

Recently our friend and the director of the documentary To Be Heard -- a wonderful testimonial to the winning spirit of disenfranchised youth in Brooklyn -- Deborah Shaffer also lost her wonderful husband, Larry Bogdanow, a New York architect of restaurant interiors.  One of his most enticing and intimate restaurants, Wild Blue, opened on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center in 1999 and was destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001. Deborah continued on, finished the film, got it out into the festivals and short listed for an Academy Award Nomination for Best Documentary this year.

There were also the buyers reps, Richard Glasser and Steve Hirsch who passed from this scene much too early in their lives.

At the risk of becoming morbid, I am using this blog as an open forum, a place to ruminate, not on death, but to take a little more time to remember Bingham whose closeness is affecting me deeply still.

I know people live in circumstances where death and even violent death is all around them (Haiti, Rwanda, Colombia, etc.).  I cannot imagine their grief and horror, and I know I am blessed as are all my friends and colleagues to be living in such peaceful circumstances. Still losing friends and family is a painful, if inevitable, process.

Sundance seemed to stop this year with the news of Bingham's death.  Anne Thompson also remarked on it; time just took on a whole different aspect.  It was difficult sticking to the program though we did the best we could.  It seemed to end before it became a festival for me.

My most recent memory and my earliest memory of Bingham are condensed into this moment when I wrote this In Memoriam at Sundance:

Most recently, as I was checking out of my hotel the last day of the Art House Convergence, it was early and most of the participants were going to the panel: Art House Lessons for Today from the Halcyon Days: History Repeats Itself, subtitled Nostalgia for the Bad Old Days, a panel with Jeff Lipsky: October Films co-founder with Bingham, founder and president of the recently established Adopt Films, Art Takes Over, 30-year veteran in the independent film world, internationally known for his expertise in independent film marketing, acquisition and distribution, Richard Abramowitz: President of Abramorama; co-founder of Stratosphere Entertainment; Ira Deutchman of Emerging Pictures and Chair of Columbia University’s Film Program; a founder of Cinecom (and the seed planter of my own Film Finders at that time) who later created Fine Line Features; filmmaker, marketer and distributor of over 150 films since 1975 and Gary Palmucci (whose wife if Nancy Gerstman of Zeitgeist): Vice President of Theatrical Distribution for Kino Lorber,  long time Kino regular on the festival circuit with Don Krim who also has passed on much too early.

My roommate at the Convergence, Bernice Baeza of the Lark Theater in Larkspur California, was leaving early and so we were almost alone in the hotel lobby, though Carl Spence of Seattle and Palm Springs Film Festivals was about to go into breakfast, and Richard Abramowitz and someone were in a corner by themselves.

We saw an ambulance draw up and it alarmed us. I realized that whoever had been in the corner was now being strapped to a gurney. I began to run to the ambulance to ask what had happened as I saw Bingham laying there with his feet crossed and a serene smile on his face as if he was saying I'm just going to rest for a while. Richard was by his side and as he saw me become alarmed, he asked me to please be very discrete and not to mention this to anyone. He said Bingham had just fallen and Richard called the ambulance to be sure he was not hurt. I agreed and returned to the lobby and said to Carl, Just forget you saw anything; do not mention this to anyone. He agreed and Bernice and I continued to check out. The woman behind the desk said that he had come to the desk and had forgotten his room number, and then could also not recall his name and his speech was slurred. She said he must have suffered a stroke.

Later Richard kept in touch with me as he stayed on watch. He told me getting Bingham to accept an ambulance had been a typical "Bingham" struggle as Bingham had felt it was unnecessary.

When I first met Bingham he was known as the former manager of the Bleeker Street Theater, a legend to me, a non native New Yorker. I had moved from L.A. to New York and was managing Films Inc/ PMI's Social Issue Documentary Division, founded by Marge Benton who was also Chairman of the Sundance Institute at the time and active with the Democratic campaign to elect Carter. She felt that such a documentary division would help further the causes she loved and election time was an important time to do so.

All the "guys" in the business were very intimidating at the time: Bingham, John Pierson, Douglas Green, Tom Bernard...and I was struggling to hold my own.  Last Berlin, as Bingham and I were talking, he admitted to knowing how intimidating he was and we laughed as I admitted to always wanting to cry after having "conversations" with these guys.

Bingham had grown, he had already had two near-death experiences - one during the London Screenings, when stepping off a curb in London, he was pulled back by Mark Ordesky (my former assistant before going to New Line!) as a car rushed forward towards him (from the "wrong direction"), and the other in an auto acccident in Connecticut. I had written him then about my thoughts in the face of his terrible accident and we became more than mere acquaintances when he thanked me for the note. 

Bingham knew the value of life and he lived it fully. His much too early death should remind us all to be mindful of how we are living. I myself almost did not want to take the time to write this; the pressure of working at Sundance was very strong and it would have been easier to work through, but the thoughts of Bingham and our common histories would not let go of me.

He himself was about to start a whole new chapter in his life at the San Francisco Film Society, already marred by the premature death of its beloved director Graham Leggat.  

Graham Leggat 1960-2011

This alone should be a reminder to us all that no matter what our age, there is always a new chapter to begin if we live creatively.

We need to take the time to consider how we live in this world we all share, how we treat others, how we build our lives around what are truly the important issues....family, friends, our community, our city, our nation and our planet...and cinema which we all believe can truly change the world.

Bingham is out there now and he will always be a part of our world in whatever form we human beings take after shuffling off our mortal coil.

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5 Comments

  • Katherine Rosen | January 29, 2012 11:05 PMReply

    Thank you Sydney for your beautiful and eloquent tribute to Bingham, and others in the indie world. Although I've worked outside of film for many years, I remember well so many of the people you mentioned in this essay. So grateful that you took the time to write this, and it is not morbid at all, but a reminder of how we live our lives and our interactions with those in our community. Thank you again. KR

  • Amy Heller | January 29, 2012 8:43 PMReply

    Sydney, what a lovely and thoughtful piece. This last year has indeed been one of too many losses. Don and Graham were two of the kindest and sweetest men in the indie film world. And while I mostly knew Bingham from "around," he (and Richard Abramowitz) went out of their way to allay my nerves when we were on a panel together last summer. I also wanted to remember another indie film stalwart and hero who died in 2011, director producer and distributor Bruce Ricker. Bruce (who was a longtime friend of Don Krim's) was responsible for a string of great jazz documentaries. And he was a great friend. I miss them all.

  • Richard S. Guardian | January 29, 2012 8:00 PMReply

    I appreciate this very much, Sydney. As JD says, you have very eloquently summarized what many people are feeling, and you have reminded us of the too many losses our independent film community has weathered in the last two years. Thanks again for your beautiful words.

  • michael nolin | January 29, 2012 6:54 PMReply

    Thanks, Sydney. You articulated what I've been musing.

  • Jonathan Dana | January 29, 2012 6:20 PMReply

    Sydney-

    What an extraordinary essay. Thank you for expressing so eloquently what so many of us are pondering after this so very tough week. For me it is almost too early to speak of the loss of Bingham. It just simply hurts too much. And for the others, I mourn as well. Don Krim I had known since the third grade (Donny/Jonny) in Newton, Massachusetts. It inspires me that you can write so eloquently about our time and our group and our work and of the larger human issues above and beyond. Thank you so very much. xx jd

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