U.S. industry veteran Barbara Stone, producer, distributor and founder of London’s iconic Gate Cinema, has died aged 83 in the UK capital. Stone and her late husband David worked in the film business most of their lives, both in the U.S. and in the UK, playing an important role in distributing independent and avant-garde movies during the 1970s and 80s.
In 1974, the husband and wife partnership acquired the Classic cinema in Notting Hill Gate, west London, turning it into art-house Mecca the Gate. They launched distribution outfit Cinegate and made their first pickups three films by the young German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder: The Merchant of Four Seasons (1971); The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant (1972); and Fear Eats The Soul (1974). These were the first Fassbinder films to be shows in Britain and brought the venue instant critical and commercial success.
The Gate would go on to show classic films that others passed on, including La Cage Aux Folles (1978), and Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (1977) and Manhattan (1979). Derek Jarman’s Sebastiane (1976), with Latin dialogue and subtitles, reportedly saw queues for weeks. They also brought over the young and relatively unknown Austrian bodybuilder star of Pumping Iron (1977), Arnold Schwarzenegger, who posed with David for the cover of Time Out. “He’s gonna be bigger than Stallone”, David foresaw at the time.
There were occasional battles with the censors, notably on Nagisa Oshima’s Japanese title In the Realm Of The Senses (1976) but in 1978 they opened the Gate 2 in Brunswick Square and in 1981 Gate Camden. Meanwhile, their west-London home became well known to the likes of Bernardo Bertolucci, Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, Wallace Shawn, Robert Kramer, Agnès Varda and Anouk Aimée.
Stone was born in Brooklyn and began her film career in New York in the 1960s working in continuity and as a make-up artist on features and commercials. She did Edward G. Robinson’s make-up on one of his last films and was also as an editor of Film Culture Magazine. Her marriage in 1957 to fellow New Yorker David established a lifelong personal and professional relationship.
In their early years the Stones worked on two films directed by Lithuanian American avant-garde filmmaker Jonas Mekas: Memories Of Frankenstein and The Brig, which won the grand prize at the Venice Film Festival. In 1963 her and David produced Hallelujah The Hills, directed by Adolfas Mekas, which was honoured at the Critics Week in Cannes and debuted at the first New York Film Festival. Her zeal for U.S. avant-garde filmmaking meant she helped introduce the likes of Jonas Mekas, Robert Frank and Kenneth Anger to Europe in 1961 via the Spoleto Arts Festival in Italy.
In 1968 and 1969, during the height of the U.S. embargo, she went to Cuba as one of the first American filmmakers to shoot there, co-producing and co-directing two documentaries: Isle Of Youth and Companeras And Companeros. She visited Cuba several times during the 1960s and 1970s, and worked closely with local film organization ICAIC. She later distributed films by Cuban filmmakers including Humberto Solas’ Lucía and Pastor Vega’s Retrato De Teresa.
The Stones relocated to London in the 1970s and would produce Robert Kramer movies Ice and Milestones, both of which played at Cannes. Barbara developed Mel Brooks’ The Doctor And The Devils, released in 1982, and worked on scripts from Istvan Szabo, Martin Scorsese, Emile De Antonio and Bernardo Bertolucci. The couple ended their ownership of the Gate in 1986 but the famous venue, known for its beautiful auditorium, maintains the same name to this day.
From 1987 to 1991, Barbara served as Director of Creative Affairs for Ideal Communications, a British production and sales company backed by U2 management, where she developed and packaged feature film and television material. She returned to independent film production in the early 1990s and produced 1995 comedy The Steal, starring Alfred Molina, and Joanna Hogg’s debut feature Unrelated in 2007. Living in San Francisco for several years in the early 1990s, she was also Managing Director of the San Francisco International Film Festival, and was on the Board of Directors of the American Conservatory Theater.
Late into her life, Stone continued to develop movie material, mentor aspiring filmmakers and help manage London stage venues. She passed March 17, and is survived by her children Alexandra, Jordan, Dylan and Ethan.