IFP Gotham Independent Film Awards

Those who are not familiar with Tom Rothman, chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment, the company behind “Avatar,” “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and “The X-Men” franchise, might be surprised by the mogul’s presence at this year’s Gotham Independent Film Awards.

But Rothman’s acceptance of the Gotham Industry Tribute represents both a homecoming for the studio honcho, and, as he describes it, a “continuation” of his current activities at big Fox.

In the 1980s, Rothman got his start in the film business working at the Gotham entertainment law firm Frankfurt, Garbus, Klein & Selz. He represented Jim Jarmusch on “Stranger Than Paradise,” and helped produce his 1986 follow-up “Down by Law,” and worked with such other emerging auteurs as Bill Sherwood, Robert Frank and Spike Lee.

“I learned then that great filmmakers make great movies,” says Rothman. “It’s the heart and soul of what I do everyday in my job: Try to pair the right talent with the right material.”

Later, after a stint at Columbia, Rothman worked at the Samuel Goldwyn Co., where he helped launch the careers of other indie stalwarts, such as Anthony Minghella and Ang Lee.

“Tom would love to quote Shakespeare’s ‘Henry V’ saying, ‘once more into the breach’ when taking on tough indie films,” recalls Samuel Goldwyn Films’ current president Meyer Gottlieb. “He loved the challenge.”

Today, Rothman is quick to point out that his indie roots are still firmly entrenched in the entertianment biz. For instance, Fox is working with Lee on a 3D adaptation of the bestseller “Life of Pi.” “I don’t consider it going full circle as much as a continuation,” says Rothman. “And believe me, ‘Life of Pi’ is as independent minded as ‘Down by Law.’ ”

Rothman also oversees Fox Searchlight Pictures, the specialty division he founded in 1994, and which he and the parent company continue to support wholeheartedly.

“The reason I love my job is I’ve gotten to work on films of all shapes and sizes,” he says. “Right now, I’m splitting my time among ‘The Descendents’ and ‘Shame,’ a new film by Cameron Crowe, and a wacky R-rated comedy, and you know what, they have more in common than not.

“Audiences don’t care about how much a movie costs, they care about how it makes them feel.”

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