IN MEMORIAM

01.23.12

Indie-Film Vet Bingham Ray Dies After Stroke at Sundance

Bingham Ray, a celebrated studio head who helped foster the independent-film boom, died after suffering a stroke at the Sundance Film Festival. Chris Lee reports from Utah.

Bingham Ray, a widely admired indie-film veteran and former studio head, has died, the Sundance Film Festival announced on Monday. He was 57.

Ray had reportedly been in serious but stable condition at a Provo, Utah, hospital and was surrounded by family when he died. His daughter told The Wrap that he had suffered a mild stroke last week followed by a “more serious” stroke on Friday during the festival.

The news registered like a death in the family in Park City, with many friends expressing outpourings of genuine sadness upon hearing of Ray’s passing.

“I will deeply miss Bingham Ray who died today,” firebrand documentarian Michael Moore tweeted Monday. “He bought and distributed Bowling for Columbine when no one else would. He stood by me all the way.”

The movie stalwart was named executive director of the San Francisco Film Society in October, and, from many years of attending the festival, has become a cherished figure at Sundance. In 1991 Ray cofounded October Films, a seminal indie distributor that released a number of acclaimed and Oscar-nominated movies including Secrets & Lies, Celebration, Breaking the Waves, and Lost Highway.

“When I started at [William Morris Agency] there were 2 key figures running the independent distribution business, Weinstein at Miramax and Ray at October,” the independent film producer and agent Cassian Elwes tweeted Monday.

“Weinstein dominated the business and ray was the upstart. Harvey was hard to get to know at the beginning for me and we had many run-ins. Bingham ray on the other hand was very approachable and took a shine to me, which I will be forever grateful for.”

Having begun his career in moviedom as a projectionist for New York’s Bleecker Street Cinema in 1981, Ray went on to become president of United Artists and worked at Sidney Kimmel Entertainment. More recently, he worked as a consultant to Snag Pictures, a digital-distribution company, and as an adjunct professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

The news registered like a death in the family in Park City, with many friends expressing outpourings of genuine sadness upon hearing of Ray's passing.

“He’s unique within the film world,” San Francisco Film Society board co–vice president Jen Chaiken told SF Gate in October. “He brings working knowledge of so many aspects of the film world. It’s pretty rare that somebody had their own studio and worked in distribution but has also been a studio executive in L.A.”

“Bingham’s many contributions to this community and business are indelible, and his legacy will not soon be forgotten,” the Sundance Institute said in a statement.