Bizzers gather at Sundance to remember Bingham Ray

Bingham Ray, who championed indie films throughout his career as co-founder of October Films and prexy of United Artists and was recently named exec director of the San Francisco Film Society, died Monday in Provo, Utah, after suffering two strokes last week. He was 57.

Ray had been attending the Arthouse Convergence symposium near Park City when he suffered the first stroke and was hospitalized in Park City. He suffered a second stroke and was transferred to Provo, where he died.

After three decades in the indie film biz that ended with a three-year stint as an exec at Sydney Kimmel Entertainment, Ray had recently segued to the festival and academic world, serving as a programming consultant to the Film Society of Lincoln Center, consultant to Snagfilms and adjunct professor at NYU.

He was named exec director of the org that runs the San Francisco Intl. Film Fest in November, after the death of SFFS director Graham Leggat.

The fest takes place annually in April.

“The board of directors and staff of the Film Society are stunned and deeply saddened by the untimely death of our executive director Bingham Ray. 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,” said Pat McBaine, San Francisco Film Society board president.

The San Francisco Film Society’s annual Sundance party has been cancelled.

In 1991, Ray and Jeff Lipsky co-founded October Films, which was one of the most influential indie distribs throughout the 1990s until its sale to USA Networks in 1999. At October, he acquired films including Mike Leigh’s “Secrets and Lies,” Lars von Trier’s “Breaking the Waves” and David Lynch’s “Lost Highway.” The company’s films won two Oscars. In 2001, he was named prexy of MGM subsid United Artists, where he acquired and produced films including Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine,” which won the feature doc Oscar, “Hotel Rwanda” and “Ghost World.” He left UA in 2004.

In 2007 he joined Los Angeles-based Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, where he served president of Kimmel Distribution and president of creative affairs. He supervised marketing and distribution plans for the original “Death at a Funeral,” “Talk to Me,” “Lars and the Real Girl” and “Synecdoche, N.Y.” and was responsible for the development and production of the remake of “Death at a Funeral,” as well as supervising the development of a seven-film production slate.

Ray began his career in 1981 as manager-programmer of the Bleecker Street Cinema, then worked as a booker for United Artists, New Yorker Films, the Samuel Goldwyn Co. and Avenue Entertainment. Among the titles he worked on were defining titles of the blossoming era of independent film including “Sid and Nancy,” “Prick Up Your Ears,” “Drugstore Cowboy,” “Hope and Glory,” “Sweetie” and “After Dark, My Sweet.”

He served as a jury member for the Sundance, Rotterdam and Edinburgh film festivals and the Film Independent Spirit Awards and has lectured on film production and development at the City College of New York’s Graduate Film School and Columbia in addition to NYU.

Ray is survived by his wife Nancy King, three children and two sisters.