San Francisco Chronicle: Film Fest director Bingham Ray dead at age 57
Bingham Ray, the new Executive Director of the San Francisco Film Society, died Monday after suffering two strokes at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah. He was 57.
One of the most influential forces in independent film, helping promote, distribute and produce such movies as "Hotel Rwanda," "Bowling for Columbine," "Drugstore Cowboy, " "The Kite Runner," "High Art" and "The Last Seduction," Ray came to San Francisco in November to reinvigorate the film society and select movies for its new SF Film Society Cinema.
In a written statement, San Francisco Film Society board president Pat McBaine expressed shock at Ray's untimely death.
"We at the Film Society and the entire film community have lost far too early an energetic and visionary impact player who has helped shape the independent film industry for decades in so many important and valuable ways," she wrote.
Ray had flown to Utah a few days before the 2012 festival to attend the Sundance Art House Enclave, a gathering of programmers who select movies for art house cinemas. On Thursday he told a friend he didn't feel well. He had a mild stroke that day, and a second stroke Friday that one of his daughters described to the entertainment blog the Wrap as "more serious."
His wife, Nancy, son and two daughters flew to a Provo hospital to be by his side.
"This has put a pall on everybody who knows him at Sundance," said Film Society spokeswoman Hilary Hart, who is in Utah.
"But everyone is saying that if this was going to happen to him anywhere this is the right spot. He's lived in New York and now San Francisco, but Sundance has always been Bingham Ray-central," she said.
The San Francisco Film Society's annual Sundance Film Festival party was canceled on Monday in lieu of a gathering place for Ray's colleagues and friends in Park City to come together.
Ray came to the San Francisco Film Society from New York City, where he recently served as the first run programming consultant to the Film Society of Lincoln Center, executive consultant to the digital distribution company SnagFilms and adjunct professor at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. His death came only five months after the previous director Graham Leggat died from cancer.
Ray co-founded October Films in 1991 and served as its co-president until its sale to USA Networks in 1999. October was one of the foremost independent film companies of the 1990s, winning two Oscars and garnering 13 Oscar nominations and top prizes at the Cannes Film Festival on three occasions. Some of October Films' credits include the internationally acclaimed "Secrets & Lies," "The Apostle," "Cookie's Fortune," "The Celebration," "Lost Highway," and "Breaking the Waves."
From bartender to president of United Artists, his life was worthy of a movie.
Ray dabbled in theater with his roommates at Simpson College in Iowa, graduated with a degree in theater arts and speech, then returned to Manhattan, where he took his bartending job at a place called the Mad Hatter so he could pay his father back for the college loans.
It was the mid-1970s, and Ray was at the epicenter of the nascent indie-film movement, when director Amos Poe created "The Blank Generation" - the first home movie of then-unknown post-punk rockers Patti Smith, Blondie, the Ramones and the Talking Heads, all shot inside CBGB.
"I knew instinctively that I'd be able to make a living in this business, and, in truth, what I am is a sort of vagabond explorer on a continuous adventure," Ray told the San Francisco Chronicle in December.
Ray's last movies he chose for the San Francisco Film Society Cinema will run in March. They include "Domain," a Turkish Oscar contender, "Once Upon A Time in Anatolia," and critic indie favorite, "Margaret."
Ray is survived by his wife Nancy King, their children Nick, Annabel and Becca, and his sisters Susan Clair and Deb Pope.