Who makes cinema?

Milos Stehlik, Facets Founder and Artistic Director, discusses the legacies of Don Krim and Dan Talbot, two legendary impresarios of film.

The true impresarios

In my life, I’ve been privileged to know people who rarely become famous outside the narrow circle of their professions, and who – for me, unjustly – are rarely recognized for the true value of their life’s work.

In film, the vast majority of the credit goes to the filmmaker and actors and, sometimes, to their collaborators.

However, this omits one essential element: someone had to be there who believed in the film; someone who put up personal cash and a lot of effort in the attempt to get us to see the film.

“Impresarios” like Harvey Weinstein (his sexual predatorship aside) and their over-the-top, throw-money-at-it, manipulate-the-press and create-an-event film distribution career, did anything but, follow a meat-cleaver approach to film distribution. Don’t forget that Harvey and Bob Weinstein got their start doing regional rock concert promotion. It didn’t take much genius to buy Cinema Paradiso while shelving Kiarostami’s Through the Olive Trees after having bought it in a “package.”

The impresarios who made a real impact deserve to be celebrated as they truly love film. The late Don Krim is a perfect example. Don, who was a wonderful person, owned Kino International, the distribution company that brought us classics like Schlondorff’s The Tin Drum.

Don’s first love was silent cinema. I remember how ecstatic he was about commissioning a new orchestral score for the 1914 Italian silent epic Cabiria – a project that surely cost more than Don ever made from the obscure, but influential, film’s release. D. W. Griffith may have never made Intolerance if it had not been for Cabiria. Thanks to Don’s passion (or obsession), we have access to Cabiria, the works of Buster Keaton, and hundreds of other films.

Which brings us to Dan Talbot

Dan Talbot died at the age of 91 just before the end of 2017. He co-owned the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas – a destination for art-house film on New York’s West Side – and before that had owned The New Yorker Theatre. His wife, Toby Talbot – an expert in Spanish, Latin American, and Portuguese literature – wrote The New Yorker Theater and Other Scenes from a Life in the Movies a few years back. It’s a fascinating reading.

For over 40 years, Dan also ran New Yorker Films – a film distribution company. Since Facets did so much business with New Yorker, I still remember their former address, 16 West 61st Street. A decade or so ago, it was bought out by a dot-com millionaire who, because geeks were always smarter, was going to do better in the antiquated, personality-based film distribution business. New Yorker Films collapsed because of the debt which its new owner saddled on the company.

Dan Talbot was an individual who had an “eye.” He recognized the genius of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, bought and distributed many of his films like The Merchant of Four Seasons or Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? before landing a genuine hit with The Marriage of Maria Braun. When Bernardo Bertolucci was barely emerging from the fog of his apprenticeship with Jean-Luc Godard, Dan Talbot had the vision to buy his Before the Revolution – today, as impressive and as brilliant of an early film as any. Dan also saw the genius of Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembène and became the exclusive distributor of almost all of Sembène’s films, including Black Girl, Emitai, Ceddo, Guelwaar, and Moolade.

Facets had the privilege to premiere Sembène’s Xala, which New Yorker films also released. It’s an amazing satire about the rising new African bourgeoisie, trapped between capitalism and ancient tradition, where an African businessman-on-the-ascendant marries his third wife and has to go back to his village to find a cure for the curse that has made him impotent. This film was an enormous hit. Would it be today?

Dan Talbot was not afraid to go where others feared to tread. How many would jump and become the distributor of films by Jean-Marie Straub and Danielle Huillet like Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach or Moses and Aaron?

Dan almost single-handedly put the Brazilian Cinema Novo on the map, with films like Nelson Pereira dos Santos’s Barren Lives, the breakthrough film by Carlos Diegues, Bye, Bye Brazil (also a Facets premiere), or the wonderful spoof on colonialism by Dos Santos, How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman?

We also premiered Xica – another New Yorker Films release – which was the most successful theatrical release in Facets’ 42-year history. Directed by Carlos Diegues, Xica is based on historical facts and covers the relationship between a provincial governor and a black slave, who (at least in the movie) takes the governor behind a screen and then the audience hears sounds of ecstasy. Through their sexual prowess, the slave gains power and becomes a legend in her time.

Working with New Yorker Films, we brought Zeze Motta, the beautiful young star who played Xica, and its director, Carlos Diegues to Chicago. The film played non-stop for 13 weeks and, in reality, should have played longer. This success caused much jealousy on the part of a certain theatre owner, who, through the then-corrupt projectionists’ union and the City of Chicago, tried to get Facets closed, but that’s another story.

To be continued…

Author: Facets founder and Worldview film critic, Milos Stehlik takes us on a tour of film history each week with our Member newsletter. Get advanced access by becoming a Facets Member today.

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