Jonathan Demme (1944-2017)

Jonathan Demme was known to the world as the Oscar Award-winning American filmmaker whose 1991 film “The Silence of the Lambs” was one of only three films to win awards in all of the major categories – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Actress. In Westchester, he was known as a Pleasantville “fixture”; mentor to film students; a long time supporter and board member of the Jacob Burns Film Center; a dedicated fan of westerns, leading “Saddle Up Saturdays” at the Burns; and a celebrated filmmaker who enjoyed schmoozing with the folks in the community.  Jonathan and his dog were featured on the cover of ArtsNews in January of 2011. He will be missed. Brian Ackerman, Founding Director of Programming at Jacob Burns, posted a poignant tribute to Demme on the organization’s website, but I’ll let it speak for itself. – JL

“Jonathan Demme was one of the great Directors of our time—innovative and daring, inventive and honest, creating films in all forms and genres: narratives, documentaries, music films, experimental shorts, and beyond.  He was a filmmaker of international stature, one of the great artists of the trade, a winner of Oscars and innumerable honors. Yes, there was all that.  But actually that’s not really the Jonathan that all of us at the Burns find ourselves mourning.  What was truly extraordinary, what all of us experienced as unique and irreplaceable, was Jonathan’s singular energy and spirit, his effervescence and warmth, a radiance that swept up everyone in his path and made us all feel—whether we knew him a little or a lot, whether on the staff or in the audience—like we were all on the same magical journey.

He had that rarest of all gifts, the gift of inclusion, of letting us all feel like we belonged, of letting us all feel important in some precious, intangible, essential way.  He was larger than life, while insisting all the while, in every word and gesture, that we were made of the same stuff. His contributions to the Burns were too many to catalogue, but here’s a sliver: he was a mentor to students and staff, served on the Board of Directors, hosted Rarely Seen Cinema for 12 years amongst many other series, brought international filmmakers and artists to our residency, hosted innumerable public screenings with filmmakers, writers, actors, activists; he was a teacher, a friend, a champion, a critic, and a supporter all with the infectious love that was pure Jonathan.  If there was one thing that he believed in, it was the transcendent power of sharing.  And whether you were in the audience, or on the staff, or on the board, he was always the same Jonathan.

In every conversation about Jonathan, there inevitably comes a moment when someone says: Y’know, I never met anyone like him.

We, at the Burns and everywhere, will miss him.”

–Brian Ackerman, JBFC Founding Director of Programming

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