Searching for Mr. Rugoff
Articles & Reviews
“Searching for Mr. Rugoff,” an enthralling documentary that movie buffs everywhere will want to see (it feels, in its insidery way, as essential as any chapter of “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls” or “Pictures at a Revolution”), was produced and directed by Ira Deutchman, the veteran film distribution and marketing executive who got his start in the mid-’70s working for Rugoff.
There’s never been anything quite like “Searching for Mr. Rugoff” that comprehensively documents this exciting period when documentaries and foreign-language films broke through to become part of the American cinematic diet through the efforts of innovators such as Rugoff… and the film captures the enthusiasm and ingenuity that defined the era in moviegoing. Although bringing this moment in time to vivid life would be invaluable enough, the film provides intrigue for those who aren’t necessarily interested in this history when “Searching for Mr. Rugoff” subtly becomes about history itself.
Searching for Mr. Rugoff tells the story of a legendary but now tragically little-known figure who revolutionized theatrical film distribution in the 1960s and 70s. But the film directed by Ira Deutchman serves as a eulogy not only for the complex figure at its center but also for a now-vanished era of moviegoing. Any film buffs who came of age during those years, and especially those who lived in New York City, will likely experience deep feelings of nostalgia upon viewing the film, which recently received its world premiere at DOC NYC.
Frankly SEARCHING FOR MR RUGOFF is stunner. It is a film about how the movies got to here. Highly recommended.
This is not just the story of a man, but a story of film in modern-day America. The comedy and the tragedy, it is all here.
For any filmgoer who lived in New York City in the 1960s and 1970s, the name “Cinema 5” was as familiar as that of Loews or Trans-Lux. Cinema 5 was the premier art-house circuit in Manhattan, comprised of an array of stylish theaters including the Beekman, the Sutton, the Paris, the Plaza, the Paramount, and the Gramercy. Single-handedly, company founder Donald Rugoff turned New York’s Upper East Side into a cinema mecca.
This isn’t an easy or thin examination, instead taking on the life of a forgotten legend from the men and women that knew him personally and professionally. It’s also simply one of the festival’s most entertaining watches.
A loving and kaleidoscopic portrait of long-dead film exhibitor Donald Rugoff — a passionate sort who controlled most of New York’s art house theaters in the 1960s-’70s, and used them to foist the likes of Werner Herzog and Nicholas Roeg into the American consciousness — Deutchman’s debut gives the local legend the cinematic sendoff he’s always deserved.
Searching for Mr. Rugoff is the beating heart of this 10th annual DOC NYC. Every filmmaker lucky enough to have a feature or short showing here—from the very youngest film student and intern to Oscar-winner Barbara Kopple—will want to hunker down in this one, taking notes and viewing what’s up on the big screen with appreciation and maybe even awe.
Searching for Mr. Rugoff succeeds in its mission. It finds the remnants of Rugoff in the once-young employees and directors who collided with him in his lifetime and presents them in a way that left me wondering how exactly this man’s name has been absent from mainstream discussion for so long.
Joe Piscatella’s Mai Khoi & the Dissidents, about a Vietnamese pop star-turned-political activist; David Michaels’s Tyson, a candid portrait of controversial boxer Mike Tyson; and Ira Deutchman’s Searching for Mr. Rugoff, about the outsized personality behind legendary art house distributor Cinema 5.
World premieres include: Joe Berlinger‘s The Longest Wave; Ngawang Choephel’s Ganden: A Joyful Land; Geeta Gandbhir’s Hungry to Learn; Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe’s He Dreams of Giants; Reiner Holzemer’s Martin Margiela: In His Own Words; Viva Van Loock’s Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope; Joe Piscatella’s Mai Khoi & the Dissidents; David Michaels’s Tyson; and Ira Deutchman’s Searching for Mr. Rugoff.
The slate includes world bows for pics including Joe Berliner’s The Longest Wave, Keith Fulton and Lou Pepe’s He Dreams of Giants about Terry Gilliam’s quest to adapt Don Quixote, Viva Van Loock’s opioid crisis doc Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope, and Ira Deutchman’s Searching for Mr. Rugoff about the force behind art house distributor Cinema 5.