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Maverick Distributor Marty Zeidman Changed Face of Indie Cinema

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood June 11, 2011 at 11:50AM

Inside the independent film community, Marty Zeidman was known as an innovator who changed the way independent movies were released. The distributor who worked at Miramax, Polygram, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Fine Line, Lionsgate, Paramount Classics and Columbia Pictures died at age 63 in Los Angeles on Wednesday, June 8, 2011, from complications due to pancreatitis. He also worked in exhibition for many years as head buyer at Landmark Theatres, and most recently, owned indie distributor Slow Hand Releasing (Innocent Voices, Kids in America and U2: the Concert Movie).
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Thompson on Hollywood

Inside the independent film community, Marty Zeidman was known as an innovator who changed the way independent movies were released. The distributor who worked at Miramax, Polygram, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Fine Line, Lionsgate, Paramount Classics and Columbia Pictures died at age 63 in Los Angeles on Wednesday, June 8, 2011, from complications due to pancreatitis. He also worked in exhibition for many years as head buyer at Landmark Theatres, and most recently, owned indie distributor Slow Hand Releasing (Innocent Voices, Kids in America and U2: the Concert Movie).

Zeidman was the sort of old school shoot-from the-hip exec that we don't see much anymore. What Fox Searchlight, The Weinstein Co. and Focus Features are today are in large part thanks to him.

Some of the credit that goes to the Weinsteins for their golden era at Miramax belongs to Zeidman, a distribution executive they recruited from Columbia Pictures. Just as the Weinsteins were hitting their stride in the mid-80s, Zeidman figured out how to take their art-house movies, so-called "specialized" fare such as Scandal and My Left Foot, and break them out wider than any indies had gone before. Others wanted to play the big theater chains instead of the indie circuits, which back then were limited to Landmark and key art markets. Zeidman was the one to boldly break through the guarantees and rules that were strangling the indies to a bigger, wider world. Where was the real money? The suburbs.

That's what Sony Pictures Classics' Tom Bernard means when he chortles that Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris is playing everywhere. But it was Zeidman who took his studio moxie and pushed through the barriers at the bigger circuits and got indie films played there. He had guts and instincts, he brashly took risks. He wasn't afraid to fail, and occasionally got into trouble. But exhibitors respected him for his ability to get the most out of a run, to know when to push wider. It's a talent few people have. The list of his Miramax breakouts is legendary, including Academy Award winners and nominees Cinema Paradiso, The Piano, The Grifters, The Crying Game and Hoop Dreams. "He changed the business," says ex-Landmark marketing chief Ray Price. "He was in the right place at the right time. He took indies to places they had not gone before. I don't think anyone was as talented as he was at booking theaters and releasing films."

"RIP Marty Zeidman," tweeted ex-Paramount Classics exec David Dinerstein on June 9. "Maverick distributor. Changed the way "art house" films were booked. Sex, lies...My Left Foot...Cinema Paradiso."

Adds Landmark chief Ted Mundorff:

Marty was always leading change in the world of independent film. His time with Harvey and Bob at Miramax was a special period. It was the time of introduction of Independent film to the broader audience. Independent film became part of the pop landscape. This was a time of phenomenal change. His time at Landmark saw a new SPECIALIZED THEATRE open in New York City. No longer were specialized theatres old movie theatres. New York, the art theatre Mecca, now had a modern day, stadium-seated ART theatre. His personal passion for the art form was the genesis for this charge. We will miss his passion.

A graduate of University of Bridgeport, Zeidman is survived by his sister Lois Tinter, a niece and nephew, and four grandnieces. A memorial service for friends and family was held at West LA's Landmark Theatre on June 12.

This article is related to: Genres, Independents, Obit, Exhibition, Weinsteins


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.