Posted by woodjb on May 25, 2011
On Friday, May 20, influential independent film distributor Donald Krim died after a year-long battle with cancer. For 33 years, Don was the president of Kino International Corp, which specialized in contemporary international films as well as classic Hollywood titles. Most famously Kino was the distributor of the restored Metropolis, which had its North American premiere at the 2010 TCM Classic Film Festival.
As word of Don’s death spread through the international film community, there were heartfelt expressions of sympathy from filmmakers (Joseph Cedar dedicated his Best Screenplay award at Cannes this year to Don’s memory) and critics. The New York Times‘s Dave Kehr wrote at his blog, “ Don was one of the rare distributors who cared as passionately about silent film as the latest indie productions and foreign imports.” Manohla Dargis, in a dispatch from Cannes, described him as “A gentleman in a business filled with braggarts…Mr. Krim enriched our lives and expanded our vision.” In the Village Voice J. Hoberman notes that, “In a business filled with blustering rogues, Don was a modest man distinguished not only by his taste but by his integrity and kindness.” I’m not name-dropping, I’m paying homage. Whenever a new film was released, Don would pore over the reviews and pull the juiciest quotes and lay them out on a page to circulate to exhibitors and in ads. I know because I worked for Don for more than 23 years and during the time that I occupied the art department desk, I would show up early on release days (he would always be there earlier) and cut-and-paste the articles under his immediate supervision. The process gave him such satisfaction that I am proud to glean quotes in his memory.
Since I have spent literally half my life in his employ, I am at a loss for words on how to encapsulate Don’s personality. Because he was more than just my employer, but a mentor and supportive friend, I wouldn’t know where to begin.
At his funeral service on Monday, May 23, I realized that my relationship to Don was not atypical. As the cluster of current and former employees thickened and spread across the pews of the Riverside Memorial Chapel, it became clear that I was not the only one who had a deeper admiration for the man than we had ever expressed in his lifetime. Don’t get me wrong. There were times when each of us has had “management issues” over the years. But throughout all that, there was never any doubt that he was driven by his passion for cinema and not a pursuit of riches. We often balked at his frugality, but as Kino Lorber co-president Richard Lorber pointed out at the funeral service, how many other independent distributors can you name that have survived 33 years (before the birth of home video) and weathered all the economic shifts and technical challenges that have taken place since the mid-’70s? Exactly.
So what better way to celebrate the influence Don had upon the world than to quote others, like myself, who were immediately influenced by him. Fellow TCM blogger and Kino employee R. Emmet Sweeney asked a handful of Kino Lorber employees to share a humorous or heartfelt memory of their interactions with Don.
R. Emmet Sweeney: Krim was a soft-spoken but fierce patron of silent and international cinema. His contribution to film culture is immeasurable. Much has already been written about his accomplishments as a film distributor, but I want to highlight the influence he has had on a generation of young cinephiles, simply through his generosity and sense of fair play.
I have worked at Kino under Don for five years, and in that period he has always insisted on paying his interns, as well as give them work they can learn from (i.e. not getting coffee). In the film business, this is something of a miracle. For film students and graduates, entry level positions in studios and distributors are inevitably unpaid internships. Unless one lives off of a trust fund, it is financially impossible to enter the business. When I spoke to a few young former and current Kino employees, this came up time and again, that Don saved their careers in film when prospects looked grim. He had a knack for hiring hard workers who also kept a copy of Andrew Sarris’ The American Cinema by their nightstand. He looked for passion (and a good sense of humor) as much as a padded resume.
After I received my pricey M.A. in Cinema Studies from NYU, I was making rent by working as a Visitor’s Guide at the American Museum of Natural History, a survey writer for a television marketing company, and an usher at Jazz at Lincoln Center. I was rapidly running out of money. And once again Don helped out a struggling film lover, giving me my first and only full-time job in the process, while also treating me as an equal. When he asked how your weekend was, it wasn’t a rhetorical question. He really wanted to know about your life. Without him, I’d probably be back home in Buffalo, writing a blog no one would read while watching a football team no one wanted to play for. So thanks Don, for that and everything else.
Brian Shirey: As a distributor, Don always took the spotlight off himself and directed it towards the films themselves. He also had a good old-fashioned, honest work ethic, and part of his enduring charm was a kind of stubbornness in facing new technology.
It took him forever, it seems, to stop using a typewriter. And he was never really comfortable with e-mail. But this was trumped — as the distrib business changed — by his enthusiasm for getting the movies he loved to the people. He adapted, and became really committed to having Kino be the first indie label to do Blu-Ray. The biggest shock for me was when he figured out how to take and send a picture with his smartphone at the premiere of Metropolis (with extra footage) in Berlin in 2010.
Believe it or not, he also sent a text: “A landmark film made monumental / 10 minute standing ovation. Additional footage seen as essential. / Live orchestra sensational. / On to North America!”
Reid Rossman: Many peoplemay not realize how involved Don was in the creation of all of Kino’s material, including the Kino Catalog. When he first asked me to handle the production of the catalog he began to teach me his craft. He would take 8 sheets of scrap paper, fold them in half, then create a hand written book of movies, headlines, and promotions – he knew instinctively what would work. Don would pass these scribblings to the designer and the pages would come to life. When preparing the books we would meet in the early morning and review the spreads. He would push for more lively headlines, bigger and better pictures, and come up with the perfect ideas for our seasonal promotions. During my time working with don, the book gradually expanded from 32 digest-sized pages to our current edition with 72 full-sized pages. The catalog was to be a cornucopia of unique and amazing films, this it will remain. He was quite proud of this book and has already provided input for 2012 onward.
Personally there is more than I can say in a short testimonial. He was a pleasure to know and would always take a moment before any working sessions to catch up on our personal live. He was always genuine. I miss him.
Michael Lieberman: Don generously hired me at a moment where my ability to stay in New York City was hanging in the balance. I slowly earned his trust for months, working on the outreach campaign for Ajami, and then Army of Crime, Dogtooth, and Mademoiselle Chambon, and processed the dreaded quarterly royalties, arguably Don’s favorite times of the year. And after I was hired, we spent some early mornings talking over breakfast in his office, where he ate his usual muffin with coffee. He listened to my opinions as if I had been in the film distribution world as long as he.
I never told Don one thing, which is that without the Kino International library at my fingertips as a teenager, I doubt that I would’ve fallen so in love with the movies, and that I would eventually pursue filmmaking as a college student.
Michael Chau: Don was a sincere and supremely generous man. His fostering nature allowed me to begin my career as a young paid intern at Kino, and during my few years as an employee, that generosity never changed. You really felt that he cared deeply for his Kino employees and treated us like family.
Felicia Feaster: When it often feels like film culture—the study and appreciation of film, film criticism and the pleasures of communal viewing and discussion that have always accompanied the form in the past—is vanishing, it feels doubly sad to lose someone like Don Krim. By making our shared film heritage accessible in theaters and on DVD, by allowing European, Asian and Eastern European directors to find an audience in other parts of the globe, Don advanced film culture tremendously. He certainly advanced it for me personally as an intern at Kino (where I also met my cineaste husband), where I saw all of the rich possibility of film and became acquainted with, for the first time beyond my college professors, people as thrilled and committed to film as a vocation and avocation. In the middle of a still-scary Hell’s Kitchen in 1990 Kino positively glowed with the energy of a place fueled by something more incandescent than electricity. It seemed so exotic and strange with its piles of videotapes and film-mad employees. There is something magical about work done out of love and obsession instead of mere money, and Don’s world certainly opened my eyes to that possibility. There are few people who loved film as comprehensively and as knowledgeably, reaching as far back as Edison and Keaton and looking as far ahead as Michael Haneke and Yorgos Lanthimos, as Don. To lose him feels like taking a step backward in our appreciation of the wonders of cinema. Don was a quintessential New Yorker who lived for his passion and shared it with others. I like to imagine that Don is now sitting back in a very comfortable chair with his beloved Yoo-Hoo in that great cinematheque in the sky.
This is only a small sampling of testimonials (and we welcome other friends and former associates to post their tributes as well). Don’s ex-employees have gone on to make films (Kelly Reichardt, director of Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy) , run film festivals (Gabe Wardell of SilverDocs and the Atlanta Film Festival), become TV producers (Lauren Zelaznick), and start distribution companies of their own (Dennis Doros’s Milestone Film and Video), and in other ways follow their filmic dreams.
And Don’s influence goes well beyond his employees and business associates. Beginning with the theatrical re-release of the Charlie Chaplin films in the 1970s, Don has championed the silent cinema and has crusaded to keep it alive despite ever-changing technology. I was recently told that, upon the release of the next set of Kino discs, Buster Keaton will be the classic Hollywood star with the most films available on Blu-Ray (slightly edging out Humphrey Bogart). The Kino logo that appears on screen or on the spines of DVDs will forever be reminders of just how far a genuine passion for film can carry a “little engine” like Kino.
I’ll let one of his favorite critics, Dave Kehr, have the final word. “I’m sure the company he built will carry on his spirit, but I will miss him tremendously.”
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