By Rose Kuo rkuo@me.com

A Farewell To Jonathan Demme

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Jonathan Demme is the only person I have ever known who could decline an invitation you made in such a way that you still experienced the joy of his presence, even in his absence. Jonathan enthusiastically agreed to serve as a filmmaker-mentor during my tenure as the executive director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center. He would pass on red carpet walks and skip the fancy gala dinners. Instead, he would slip in quietly to a theater to see the new film by an unknown filmmaker, and afterwards, enthusiastically share his excitement about the discovery.

Many will write about his accomplishments as a distinguished filmmaker of Oscar-winning films like Silence of the Lambs, Beloved, and Philadelphia, and my personal favorite, Stop Making Sense, the music documentary about the Talking Heads. I remember him as an artist who brought a holistic approach to sharing his creative gift with others. He engaged with anyone who had a passion for film, art or music—young and old, neophyte and jaded veteran. All held his rapt attention, experienced his endless patience for listening deeply, and benefited from his wisdom and random acts of kindness.

His brought a kinder and gentler sensibility to the world he occupied.

Sometimes, he would write a note to point out an omission when he noticed an artist had been overlooked, or to suggest something he had seen. He loved to lend support to new work and emerging filmmakers. And he was always, always willing to devote time to mentoring and helping young talent. He will be remembered mostly for his many achievements as a film director, but I am sure he would feel no slight to be remembered as simply a great human being.

So in afterlife, as in his life, Jonathan will make us feel his presence, even in his absence. And his presence and influence was, fortunately for all of us, everywhere.

Rest in peace, JD.

2 Responses to “A Farewell To Jonathan Demme”

  1. Thomas Zorthian says:

    I first became aware of Demme when I saw Last Embrace on cable. I loved the stylistic flourishes of that film and noted the director’s name. I decided that I wanted to see more from this auteur. I was filled with joy and awe when I saw Something Wild at the theater. When The Silence of the Lambs came around, it cemented my faith in Mr. Demme. I was shocked when I read of his untimely demise, but am thankful for all the great films that he gave us. A luta continua.

  2. Ed SAXON says:

    Gorgeous and so very true.

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“TIFF doesn’t make attendance numbers for its Lightbox screenings publicly available, so it’s difficult to gauge exactly how many filmgoers the Lightbox is attracting (or how much money it’s bringing in). But the King Street West venue hasn’t become a significant draw for film enthusiasts. The Lightbox’s attendance has plunged – 49,000 fewer visitors last year, a drop of 27 per cent, according to figures recently reported in the Toronto Star. Its gallery space – designed to showcase the visions of cinema’s most iconic filmmakers – saw most of its exhibitions staff quietly axed this past fall. And its marketing barely escapes the Lightbox’s walls. Unless you are a TIFF member or one of the city’s most avid filmgoers, you could walk by the Lightbox and remain blissfully unaware of a single thing that goes on inside. TIFF “still has a world-class brand,” said Barry Avrich, a filmmaker and former board member, “but it’s going to take some fresh vision from retail, consumer programming and marketing experts, given how the lines have become intensely blurred when it comes to how people watch film. They will have to experiment with programming to find the right blend of function and relevance.”
~ Globe & Mail Epic On State of Toronto Int’l (paywalled)

“I’m 87 years old… I only eat so I can smoke and stay alive… The only fear I have is how long consciousness is gonna hang on after my body goes. I just hope there’s nothing. Like there was before I was born. I’m not really into religion, they’re all macrocosms of the ego. When man began to think he was a separate person with a separate soul, it created a violent situation.

“The void, the concept of nothingness, is terrifying to most people on the planet. And I get anxiety attacks myself. I know the fear of that void. You have to learn to die before you die. You give up, surrender to the void, to nothingness.

“Anybody else you’ve interviewed bring these things up? Hang on, I gotta take this call… Hey, brother. That’s great, man. Yeah, I’m being interviewed… We’re talking about nothing. I’ve got him well-steeped in nothing right now. He’s stopped asking questions.”
~ Harry Dean Stanton