Tom Luddy, co-founder and inspiration for the Telluride Film Festival, died on February 13, 2023, in Berkeley, California after a long illness, it was announced today by the organization. He was 79. The news comes just two months after the death of another Telluride co-founder, Bill Pence.
Luddy was a force in the film industry for nearly six decades. He had a life-long love and passion for film, and a tireless dedication to film restoration, distribution, and exhibition. His presence will be profoundly missed by the many people whose lives were touched by his kindness, artistry, and his innate ability to bring people together to make something beautiful.
“The world has lost a rare ingredient that we’ll all be searching for, for some time,” reflects Julie Huntsinger, Telluride Film Festival Executive Director. “I would sometimes find myself feeling sad for those who didn’t get to know Tom Luddy properly. He had a sphinxlike quality that took a little time to get around, for some. But once you knew him, you were welcomed into a kingdom of art, history, intelligence, humor, and joie de vivre that you knew you couldn’t be without. He made life richer. Magical. He called Telluride a labor of love for a very long time. We’re so much better off because of him and that labor. We at the Festival owe it to him to carry on his legacy; his commitment to and love for cinema, above all.”
Born June 4, 1943, in New York City, Luddy began his career in film as a student at UC Berkeley (1962-1965) where he was the program director of several student film societies including the F.W. Murnau Film Society, the Slate Film Society, and the Student Union Film Series. In 1964 he worked as the assistant to Ed Landberg at the Berkeley Cinema Guild, Repertory Cinema.
Upon graduating, Luddy was hired at Brandon Films in New York as its director of national distribution from 1966 – 1967 where he worked with Pier Paolo Pasolini on the US release of ACCATONE and with Alain Resnais on the US release of LA GUERRE EST FINI. He then made the move to the Telegraph Repertory Cinema in Berkeley as its program director (1967 – 1969) while also assisting artistic director Albert Johnson at the San Francisco International Film Festival (l967 – 1973). In 1968 Luddy curated a complete (to date) retrospective of the films of Jean-Luc Godard for the Pacific Film Archive, and in 1969 he organized two US college tours for the university art museum in Berkeley with Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin for the Dziga Vertov Group. From 1970 – 1972 Luddy, along with Mel Novikoff, was program director for Surf Interplayers Cinema in San Francisco. In 1972 he joined the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley as its program director and curator of film until 1979.
Together with Bill and Stella Pence and James Card, Luddy co-founded the Telluride Film Festival in l974. Their vision, which began in a small opera house theatre, has evolved over the past fifty years into one of the most revered film festivals in the world. Luddy had remained with the Festival as co-director, then artistic director and advisor until the end of 2022.
Luddy was the American jury member at the 46th Cannes Film Festival under jury chairman Louis Malle. He also served on the juries of the 11th Moscow Film Festival, the 38th Berlin Film Festival and several others including the Cartegena, Mexico City, Morelia, Tehran, and San Paolo Film Festivals. Luddy served as a member of the five-person selection committee for the New York Film Festival (l979 – 1982) as well as West Coast programming consultant in 1978, 1983 – 1984. He served as the associate director for the San Francisco International Film Festival from 1980 – 1983, was a multiyear member and president of the board of directors under chairman George Gund and continued as a member of its advisory board from 1980 through 2022. Luddy also served over a decade as both program curator for the Documentary Film Institute at San Francisco State University beginning in 2005 and as an official consultant to the Berlin Film Festival beginning in 2007.
Tom Luddy was associated with American Zoetrope as an executive and/or film producer since l979. As Zoetrope’s Director of Special Projects, he was instrumental in Zoetrope’s support for Akira Kurosawa’s KAGEMUSHA (l980), co-executive produced by Francis Coppola and George Lucas. He developed and supervised the presentation across America of Hans-Jurgen Syberberg’s seven-hour OUR HITLER–A FILM FROM GERMANY in l980, as well as the l98l-82 worldwide revival of Abel Gance’s l927 masterpiece NAPOLEON. Luddy coordinated two collaborations with Jean-Luc Godard: EVERYMAN FOR HIMSELF (l980) and PASSION (l982), as well as Zoetrope’s sponsorship of Godfrey Reggio’s KOYAANISQATSI (l983), and the theatrical release of Fielder Cook’s TOO FAR TO GO (1983).
As an executive at Zoetrope in the early 80s, Luddy arranged and obtained the US Distribution rights for ten years to three Chinese classic films: THE SPRING RIVER FLOWS EAST, CROSSROADS, and STREET ANGEL. In 1982 he acquired and distributed Kidlat Tahimik’s THE PERFUMED NIGHTMARE.
In l985 Luddy produced, with Mata Yamamoto, the remarkable film MISHIMA: A LIFE IN FOUR CHAPTERS, directed by Paul Schrader, featuring sets by Eiko Ishioka and Music by Phillip Glass. He also served as executive producer on TOUGH GUYS DON’T DANCE (l987), written and directed by Norman Mailer. Together with Fred Roos and Barbet Schroeder, he produced BARFLY (l987) directed by Barbet Schroeder from an original screenplay by Charles Bukowski starring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway. He served as associate producer on Jean-Luc Godard’s KING LEAR (l987), and on Godfrey Reggio’s POWAQQATSI (1988). In l988, he served as executive producer on Dusan Makavejev’s MANIFESTO. Together with Fred Roos and Erwin Provoost, he produced the John Fante adaptation WAIT UNTIL SPRING, BANDINI (l989), directed by Dominique Deruddere and starring Joe Mantegna, Faye Dunaway, and Ornella Muti.
In l992, Tom Luddy reunited with Japanese producer Mata Yamamoto to produce WIND for Zoetrope & Filmlink International, directed by Carroll Ballard, starring Matthew Modine, Jennifer Grey, Stellan Skarsgaard, Jack Thompson, Cliff Robertson, and Rebecca Miller. In l993, together with Fred Roos and Fred Fuchs, he produced Agnieszka Holland’s THE SECRET GARDEN. In l995, he served as Zoetrope’s executive producer on Gregory Nava’s MI FAMILIA/MY FAMILY, starring Jimmy Smits, Esai Morales Edward James Olmos, and Jennifer Lopez.
Tom Luddy is survived by his wife Monique Montgomery, his siblings Brian Luddy, James Luddy , Jeanne Van Duzer, nephews Stevens and Will Van Duzer, and nieces Dierdre Pino, Megan Archer and Caroline Van Duzer.
Photo: Pamela Gentile, courtesy of SFFILM