Impromptu Sundance gathering draws tears, stories

Bingham Ray dies at 57

As bizzers gathered Monday at the Sundance Film Festival to honor Bingham Ray, none could easily come to terms with the fact that the indie world had lost a fierce protector of independent filmmakers.

Just a few hours after word spread that Ray had died from a stroke, industryites gathered in the cozy, dark wood-paneled High West Distillery on Main Street to raise a glass to his memory.

“Bingham was the heart and soul of the whole independent movement of which all of us were a part,” said FilmDistrict’s Jeannie Berney.

Several hundred attendees dried their eyes, sipped on house whiskey and wine and began to come to terms with Ray’s death.

“He was my role model. I would see him at film festivals, at Cannes. We would hang out,” said filmmaker Ron Mann, struggling for a moment with emotion.

John Schmidt, a 20-year business partner who was with Ray’s family in the days after he fell ill, was unable to attend the impromptu gathering, but spoke to Variety about his friend.

“He had a profound impact, both in the sense of accomplishing things through business means, but also through what he stood for,” Schmidt said. “He loved film, he knew it in encyclopedically, and he reflected that in how he did his work.”

Bizzers told many stories, reflecting his passion, humor and pugnacity: Acting as a Neal Cassady-esque figure with a 45-minute monologue on the company bus to a Neil Young concert during “Year of the Horse”; diving across the October Films conference table to land a perfect face-plant in his birthday cake; climbing over theater seats in Cannes to mix it up with Harvey Weinstein and calling him “a fat fuck” in a very loud voice; sitting through a 10-hour screening of Lars von Trier’s “The Kingdom” and buying it on the spot; and immortalizing certain colleagues with his impromptu song lyrics.

But the most common thread was how he fought tirelessly for the movies he loved so much.

“The thing about Bingham was that he was a ferocious protector of independent films,” Berney said. “He would go to great lengths to bring a movie to the marketplace.”

“I think his memory is going to live on for a very very long time,” said Danny Rosett, now a consultant, who worked with Ray when he ran United Artists. “He was as much an icon of this festival as anybody was. It’s some source of comfort that all of us could be together at a time like this, at the festival, in hope that we can carry on in his tradition.”

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