The great Tom Luddy, co-founder and artistic director of the Telluride Film Festival…a gentle hombre who always greeted and treated me like a brother and who long ago turned me on to Adam Curtis‘s The Century of the Self, a gift that I’ve never gotten over…a world-travelling cinematic sophisto who understood everything, knew everyone and always championed this or that overlooked film…Tom Luddy has died at 79.
I first dealt with Tom through my Cannon Films employment in the mid to late ’80s. Four films which Luddy produced or associate produced — Barfly, King Lear, Tough Guys Don’t Dance, Manifesto and Powaqqatsi — were financed by Cannon, and I was the in-house press kit writer. (I’ve never re-written anything in my life as much as I rewrote the Barfly press kit — Barbet Schroeder made me chisel and rephrase it over and over — I couldn’t even read it after the umpteenth try, but Schroeder taught me the meaning of “truly hardcore.”) And then Tom and I rekindled when I ran into him at the San Francisco Film Festival in the early aughts. And then Telluride, of course, which I began attending in 2010.
If you were ever lucky enough to attend a Frank Sinatra concert (which I did in Long Beach back in ’83), you’d know all about Sinatra’s emotional body language as he sang a song. He would act out the lyrics and the feelings. Luddy would do almost the exact same thing when speaking to the Telluride press contingent at the start of the festival. He would lean forward and convey his heart vibes about this and that film, gently grinning and making eye contact with some of us. You could really feel the fervor. Luddy’s regard for great cinema was religious…evangelical at times.
Roddy McDowall in heaven: “Is that how one says it? As simply as that. ‘Tom Luddy is dead…the soup is hot, the soup is cold…Luddy is living, Luddy is dead.’ [beat] Boast that you were honored to speak his name even in death! The dying of such a man, must be shouted, screamed! It must echo back from the corners of the universe. ‘Luddy is dead! Tom Luddy of Telluride lives no more!”
From Telluride rep Shannon Mitchell: “It is with deep sorrow the Telluride Film Festival announces the passing of its founder and inspiration. Tom Luddy died peacefully on February 13, 2023, in Berkeley, California after a long illness.
“Tom 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 sphinx-like 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.”