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An Appreciation: Donald Ranvaud, A True Man of the Cinema

Sunday morning, I woke up to some terrible news. One of my oldest friends, comrades and fellow travelers, someone who not only moved and touched me deeply as a beautiful human being but whose opinions, views and philosophy hugely shaped my own views on life, cinema, art and many other things, had suddenly passed away.

Donald Ranvaud and I were both in Montreal at the film festival, me with a film in competition, he on the jury. He went to bed Saturday promising to call me in the morning to schedule dinner Sunday when his jury deliberations were over. He never made it to the jury meeting.

Don was a genuine uomo universale. He wrote for a number of international journals and newspapers, and taught English and comparative literary studies at British universities with passion and a childlike ability to approach almost any problem from an oblique perspective that allowed him to see things in a new light.

But more than anything else, Don was a man of the cinema. Whether running the European Script Fund or working as a producer in China and Latin America, he was a force to be reckoned with and a staunch supporter of artists, against the men in suits. He collaborated with some of the world’s finest directors, including Bernardo Bertolucci, Chen Kaige, Fernando Meirelles, Walter Salles, and Wim Wenders, on such films as “Farewell My Concubine,” “Central Station,” and “City of God.”

Especially with the founding of his shingle Buena Onda and his work as its creative director, Don put to use his genius for discovering talent, identifying promising directors and helping them access world markets. He was an indefatigable ambassador for Latin American cinema, setting up joint ventures with Cinergia in Costa Rica for Central America and with the Puerto Rico Film Fund. After establishing the film school La Fabrica with Roberto Lanza in Bolivia, he helped set up an institute for second features, theater and cinema (Artes Andes Americas).

And as creative producer for the Film4Climate initiative of Connect4Climate, sponsored by the World Bank, Don enthusiastically joined the campaign to raise awareness of climate change. Last month, at the University of Warwick in England to receive an honorary doctorate (I was one of his students there), he couldn’t resist plugging the efforts of Film4Climate in his acceptance speech.

He was a man who, with his every contribution to art and knowledge, tried to make a difference, and at times he inspired people to change the way they see the world. Some of his schemes were eccentric, and there were those who disagreed with him. But all his projects were girded by a serious love for cinema, a passionate support for artists, and a deep understanding of the creative process.

Our close mutual friend, the journalist Chris Goodwin, wrote me this morning: “He was a utopian, really. He had an incredibly strong belief in the power of cinema to change the world and to change lives. But also [he was a] utopian in his endless search for the Great Truth at the end of the spiritual rainbow.”

I once heard of a girl in Mexico City who was so inspired by Don’s Buena Onda manifesto that she carried a copy with her all the time, everywhere. Few who met Don could ever take him for granted. I certainly never did, and never will.

Mike Downey is a film producer and deputy chairman of the European Film Academy.

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