Ray, Bingham: Independent Film Leader Dies at 57

Vet  independent film exec Bingham Ray, who had recently been named exec director of the San Francisco Film Festival, died today after suffering two strokes last week. He was 57.

“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.


Ray was named to head the San Francisco Film Society, which runs the festival, on Nov. 7.


“When Bingham took the job, we were ecstatic,” said SFFS board co-vice president and film producer Jen Chaiken. “It was an enormous vote of confidence for the organization that he was compelled to uproot his life to come run the Film Society. Bingham felt this job honored and tapped into the experience he’d garnered over the past 30 years. Bingham was one of those rare few who everyone knew on a first name only basis.”


Ray came to the San Francisco Film Society from New York City, where he recently served as the first run programming consultant to the Film Society of Lincoln Center, executive consultant to the digital distribution company SnagFilms and adjunct professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.


Ray cofounded October Films in 1991 and served as its copresident until its sale to USA Networks in 1999. October was one of the foremost independent film companies of the 1990s, winning two Oscars and garnering 13 Oscar nominations and top prizes at the Cannes Film Festival on three occasions. Some of October Films’ credits include the internationally acclaimed Secrets & Lies, The Apostle, Cookie’s Fortune, The Celebration, Lost Highway, The Last Seduction and Breaking the Waves.


In September 2001, Ray assumed the post of president of United Artists. During his tenure at UA, the company acquired and/or produced films such as “No Man’s Land,” winner of the 2001 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine,” winner of the 2002 Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary and the 2004 Academy Award-nominated “Hotel Rwanda.”


In 2007 Ray joined the Los Angeles-based production company Sidney Kimmel Entertainment and held two posts during his three-year tenure, president of Kimmel Distribution and president of creative affairs. In the first post Ray supervised all marketing and distribution plans for the original “Death at a Funeral,” “Talk to Me,” “Lars and the Real Girl” and Synecdoche, N.Y.” In the latter he was responsible for the development and production activities 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. He has been on the juries of the Sundance Film Festival, Rotterdam Film Festival, Edinburgh Film Festival and the Film Independent Spirit Awards. He has lectured on film production and development at the City College of New York’s Graduate Film School, Columbia University and New York University.