Searching for Mr. Rugoff
Articles & Reviews
Onetime Cinema 5 employee, now a film distributor and academic, Ira Deutchman adds documentary filmmaker to his resume with this engaging, nostalgic and eye-opening film, his “search” for a lost figure in indie “art cinema” history, a man who peaked and plunged pre-Internet, whose name all but disappeared from movie history.
The film is a product of Deutchman’s years of diligent research and interviewing. What he has produced provides a full and rich portrait of Rugoff: a complicated, shrewd and crude figure with cinematic taste, who could be seen simultaneously as an “ogre and a genius.” Deutchman best sums up Rugoff’s contribution to film culture when he states: “What he was doing was manifesting the idea of film as art in a way that nobody else had ever done before and he wound up changing film culture in an enormously influential way.”
In an outtake from upcoming documentary “Searching for Mr. Rugoff,” the late Robert Downey Sr. talks about how his breakout film almost didn’t find a buyer.
Deutchman on this finally releasing: “My original intention was to highlight the majesty of the theatrical experience in an entertaining way, but given where we are right now, the story has become all the more poignant. Independent art houses need our support to survive.” This does indeed look like an enthralling film about a very peculiar part of cinema history in NYC.
John Fink said in his review, “Searching for Mr. Rugoff paints a vibrant picture of a specific era of moviegoing in New York City, in particular uptown, where movie palaces like the Paris, Beckman, Paramount, Sutton, and Cinema 1 & 2 flourished with top-notch film product. His theaters were higher-end when compared to the venues owned by Nick Nicolaou, the exhibitor who starred in Abel Ferrara’s documentary The Projectionist from earlier this year.”
EXCLUSIVE: Here’s your first trailer for producer-distributor Ira Deutchman’s documentary “Searching For Mr. Rugoff,” which chronicles the colorful history of impresario of art film, Donald S. Rugoff, who ran a chain of legendary theaters in New York including the Paris Theater, where the film will play.
The well-received film, which had its world premiere at Doc NYC in 2019, will be released in theaters on August 13. In the spirit of its subject, all proceeds from the release will be donated to the not-for-profit art house theaters presenting the film across the country.
“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.
The history of movie culture is full of colorful characters committed to elevating the experience. Donald Rugoff’s exhibition and distribution company Cinema 5 paved the way for a second generation of companies enhancing cinematic culture like the studio (sm)art-house divisions and Landmark Theaters, and then a third wave of companies like the Alamo Drafthouse and A24, turning movie-going into an event.
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.