Bingham Ray (1954 – 2012)

The independent film world lost one of its champions today. Bingham Ray, executive director of the San Francisco Film Society, died of complications following a stroke he suffered late last week while attending the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. He was 57.

Ray joined the San Francisco Film Society last November after decades working in exhibition and distribution. In 1991, he co-founded October Films, which produced and/or released many of the ’90s most exciting independent and foreign films, including Lars von Trier’s BREAKING THE WAVES, Mike Leigh’s SECRETS & LIES, the Dardenne Brothers’ ROSETTA, and David Lynch’s LOST HIGHWAY. After selling October Films, Ray went to work as the President of United Artists, where, among other successes, he released Michael Moore’s BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary in 2003. In response to the news of Ray’s death, Moore tweeted “I will deeply miss Bingham Ray who died today. He bought & distributed BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE when no one else would. He stood by me all the way. By setting a box office record with BFC & winning the Oscar w/ us, he kicked off a golden decade of documentaries in movie theaters. RIP.”

Moore’s comments of appreciation and gratitude are being echoed all over the independent film world. The Sundance Institute, Sundance founder Robert Redford, and Sundance Channel have all released statements. Here they are in full. First the Sundance Institute:

“It is with great sadness that the Sundance Institute acknowledges the passing of Bingham Ray, cherished independent film executive and most recently Executive Director of the San Francisco Film Society.  On behalf of the independent film community here  in Park City for the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and elsewhere, we offer our support and condolences to his family.  Bingham’s many contributions to this community and business are indelible, and his legacy will not be soon forgotten.”

And from Robert Redford:

“We lost a true warrior for independent voice today with the passing of Bingham Ray.  He was a valued member of the Sundance family for as long as I can remember and he is responsible for mentoring countless seminal storytellers and bringing their work to the world.  Most important he was a humanist and a profoundly good human being who lived a life that meant something.”
Robert Redford
January 23, 2012

And, finally, Sundance Channel:

Bingham Ray made a significant contribution to independent voices in American and international cinema. The films and filmmakers he championed continue to challenge our perceptions of the world and ourselves. We at Sundance Channel are deeply saddened by his passing, but will continue to find inspiration in his life’s work and all that he accomplished for the independent film community.

Even if you’ve never heard of Bingham Ray before today, if you’re a fan of independent film, your life has been directly enriched by his work. He will be deeply missed. From everyone at Sundance Channel, our thoughts and best wishes go out to his family.