Tom Luddy, the film producer who co-founded Telluride Film Festival, died Monday in Berkeley, California, after a long illness, the festival confirmed. He was 79.
The producer behind films like “The Secret Garden” (1993) and “Barfly” (1987) co-founded the festival in 1974 with Bill and Stella Pence and James Card. He served as co-director, then artistic director and adviser through 2022.
“Tom was a force in the film industry for nearly six decades,” Telluride wrote in a release. “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,” said Julie Huntsinger, executive director of Telluride Film Festival. “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,” she continued. “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 embarked on his lifelong film career while studying at UC Berkeley as the director of several student film programming organizations. He was the director of national distribution at Brandon Films in New York, then program director at Berkeley’s Telegraph Repertory Cinema and assistant to artistic director Albert Johnson at the San Francisco International Film Festival. In the early ’70s, he served as co-program director of Surf Interplayers Cinema in San Francisco, before becoming program director and curator of film at Berkeley’s Pacific Film Archive.
Luddy was also a one-time actor – in the 1978 hit “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” He played Ted Hendley, co-starring alongside Donald Sutherland, Leonard Nimoy and Jeff Goldblum.
He was long associated with American Zoetrope, acting as an executive producer and film producer since 1979. Titles he worked on include Akira Kurosawa’s “Kagemusha,” “Our Hitler: A Film From Germany,” and Jean-Luc Godard’s “Everyman For Himself” and “Passion.”
In the 1980s, he produced Paul Schrader’s “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters,” Norman Mailer’s “Tough Guys Don’t Dance,” “Wait Until Spring, Bandini” and was an associate producer on Godard’s “King Lear.”
Luddy has served on the juries of Cannes Film Festival, Moscow Film Festival and Berlin Film Festival, among others. He worked as a programming consult and curator at a number of esteemed institutions, such as the New York Film Festival, Documentary Film Institute at San Francisco State University, and Berlin Film Festival.
“Tom Luddy was a legend in the film world. That’s no hyperbole,” filmmaker and film historian Daniel Kremer wrote in a Facebook post, calling the loss “indescribable.”
“Dear Tom, I’ll always remember him in his favorite booth at Zoetrope, and sitting at his desk, on which stood the slate from Godard’s Tout va bien. The man was a powerhouse. Phil Kaufman, who directed Tom in his only dramatic role in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, once called him likely the most important individual in the world of film,” the post concluded. “I could go on with his list of achievements. Legend, no less than a legend. But beyond the legend, most of all I’ll just miss my friend.”
Luddy is survived by his wife Monique Montgomery; his siblings Brian Luddy, David Luddy, James Luddy, and Jeanne Van Duzer; nephews Stevens and Will Van Duzer; and nieces Deirdre Pino, Megan Archer and Caroline Van Duzer.