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Ben Barenholtz, Independent Film Stalwart and Supporter of David Lynch, Dies at 83

Film producer Ben Barenholtz shows his
Markus Schreiber/AP/Shutterstock

Independent film stalwart Ben Barenholtz, longtime supporter of David Lynch and the Coen brothers, died Wednesday in Prague after a brief illness. He was 83.

Barenholtz had been living in Prague at the time of his death, according to his friend Sony Pictures Classics executive Tom Prassis. He died in his sleep surrounded by friends, Prassis added.

Barenholtz was also a Holocaust survivor and blogged in 2010 about his experiences of escaping into the Polish countryside with 11 other people at the age of eight. He lived in the woods for two years before the war came to an end.

Barenholtz began his career in the 1960s in New York City running the now-defunct Village Theater and the Elgin Cinema. He’s credited with pioneering the concept of midnight-movie showings, including Alejandro Jodoworsky’s “El Topo,” John Waters’ “Pink Flamingos,” the six-hour Russian production of “War and Peace” and Ken Russell’s “The Devils.”

Barenholtz subsequently began working in distribution with Libra Films, which included releasing Lynch’s “Eraserhead.” While Lynch was completing the film, he lived with Barenholtz at his New York home.

“Ben saved my life in films,” Lynch said in 2010. “To oversee getting a good print, Ben gave me a room in his house. He gave me money to get food. He said I only ate McDonalds and only drank coffee. Thank you, Ben. You deserve awards.”

Following “Eraserhead,” Barenholtz released Joel and Ethan Coens’ debut “Blood Simple” and John Sayles’ first feature, “Return of the Secaucus Seven.” After Barenholtz sold off Libra, he began producing with credits on the Coens’ “Raising Arizona” and “Barton Fink,” Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream” and George A. Romero’s “Bruiser.”

Barenholtz also made the documentaries “Music Inn,” “Wakaliwood: The Documentary,” and “Alina,” a low-budget New York production starring Russian actress Darya Ekamasova.

Barenholtz is survived by his brother Rubin, who lives in Israel.