Pierre Rissient, a French producer, publicist and formerly an influential festival selector, has died. He was 81.
His death was announced (in French) by the Institut Lumiere and French director Bertrand Tavernier. “Pierre Rissient died last night. His wife Yung Hee asked me to let you know this, and, thinking of her, it is with infinite sadness that I write this message. Pierre was a great human being and an total cinephile. We will miss him,” Tavernier wrote on the institute’s Twitter feed.
Former festival head Gilles Jacob tweeted, “Pierre Rissient was a super-discoverer of filmmakers, with an inestimable flair and curiosity. When he helped someone like Jane Campion, he took them under his wing and helped them develop their art. He loved and supported the Cannes Film Festival, I can say with sadness and feeling.”
After being an assistant to Jean-Luc Godard on “Breathless,” Rissient went on to become a publicist and film distributor. In the late 1990s he became a talent scout for CiBy 2000, the production and sales company controversially backed by French construction giant Bouygues.
Clint Eastwood credited Rissient with helping to change his image and reputation from wordless cowboy, to courageous director. He nicknamed Rissient as “Mr. Everywhere.”
Rissient was also important in promoting and interpreting the works of Jerry Schatzberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Quentin Tarantino, Jane Campion, Abbas Kiarostami, King Hu and Filipino Lino Brocka.
Former Variety film critic, Todd McCarthy made Rissient the focus of his 2007 documentary “Man of Cinema.” In 2015, Rissient was the subject of another documentary, “Gentleman Rissient” made by the trio of Benoit Jacquot, Pascal Merigeau, and Guy Seligmann.
“Whether extolling the treasures of silent film (on which he is inexhaustible), or defending the most recent film by a Zainichi Korean which profoundly affected him (‘Unforgiven’ by Sang-il Lee) or insisting on rereading Alfred Hayes, an American novelist and screenwriter discovered late in life, Pierre Rissient appreciates, discusses, becomes passionate, fights, always in the name of cinema or literature” the Institut Lumiere, wrote in its 2015 tribute to Rissient.
“He will at least avoid posthumous ridicule, unlike those in the 1970s who dictated good taste in the name of ideological considerations bogged down by semiotic or structuralist jumble.”
Rissient was also a divisive figure. As much as he was highly esteemed by top directors including Clint Eastwood and Bertrand Tavernier, for pioneering, discovery work. But his domineering manner angered festivals and individuals in Asia. There his discovery work initially gave him power. But his role in Asia was overtaken by the activities of sales agents, emerging institutions and other festival selectors.
The Institut Lumiere acknowledged as much: “This somewhat uncouth man has not made only friends in the industry, the close relationships he was able to maintain have sometimes suffered. Yet they all express the immense respect for his “eye” and his uncompromising convictions.”