Colin Leventhal Dies: Tributes Pour In For Channel 4 Key Player & Influential UK Film Figure Who Was 73

Colin Leventhal
Colin Leventhal

Colin Leventhal, the highly respected and well liked UK film executive, has died at the age of 73 after an illness. His death was confirmed to Deadline by several people close to him and his family.

Leventhal joined the BBC in 1974 as a lawyer in the Programme Contracts department, rising to become head of copyright. He left the public broadcaster in 1981 to join the team setting up Channel 4 as a founding director when the commercial network launched in November 1982.

His time at C4 saw him take on several roles including director of acquisitions and business affairs, and managing director of Channel Four International, when he also oversaw FilmFour International (later to become Film4 Productions). Working alongside David Aukin, C4’s Head of Film, the pair developed the station into a backer of high-quality, critically acclaimed feature films, including Four Weddings And A Funeral, The Madness Of King George, Secrets And Lies, Trainspotting, Shallow Grave, and several Mike Leigh movies. Leventhal later became chairman of Film Four Distributors when that launched in the late 1990s.

He exited C4 in 1997 to set up Miramax Films’ independent UK offshoot after meeting the now-disgraced Harvey Weinstein when the U.S. company took UK rights to the C4-funded Neil Jordan pic The Crying Game, which went on to box office success and Oscar glory.

The Brit company was titled Miramax HAL after its founders Trea Hoving (Leventhal’s wife), Aukin, and Leventhal. It gave its team license to invest a $50M production fund and was unusual at the time as each founder received equity and profit participation. The relatively short-lived outfit, which broke up in 2000 (reports at the time cited creative disagreements with Miramax’s U.S. office), had credits including Mansfield Park, About Adam, Birthday Girl and Elephant Juice.

Post HAL, Leventhal formed the indie producer Priority Pictures, and was also a consultant for financier Grosvenor Park.

Leventhal and Hoving first met at the Cannes Film Festival and were married in 1995. They have three children, Amelia Olga and twins Kate and Matilda.

Today, warm tributes have been made to Leventhal, who is widely viewed as a key player in the hugely influential Brit film era of the late ’80s and ’90s. If there’s one thing that has been consistent in what I’ve heard from those who knew him, it’s that he was a cool-headed and extremely likable character.

Alison Thomspon, who worked with Leventhal at C4 and now runs sales outfit Cornerstone, told Deadline, “I worked as Colin’s assistant in the exciting early days of Channel 4 in the 80s. He was a hugely respected member of the growing British independent film scene and the combination of his astute business sense and laidback charm bought him many fans.

“He was an early mentor to me and continued to offer wise advice throughout the years and even took credit for introducing me to my future husband. With a passion for cinema and nurturing new voices, Colin was one of the leading forces in creating the independent film model. He was also a truly decent, funny, generous, human being. Can’t quite believe he’s gone.”

“As my business partner, I could not have asked for a kinder, wittier, wiser more generous friend than Colin,” said David Aukin. “He was the Ying to my Yang. I never once have heard anyone in the film and television industry utter a bad word about him. While always protecting our interests, he never did so to the detriment of our partners and so created an untold fund of goodwill for us around the world.”

Bill Stephens, who worked under Leventhal at Film4 International, told Deadline. “I worked for and with Colin Leventhal for some 10 years at the height of the UK’s success in films, 1985 – 1995. He was smart, intelligent, fun and endlessly ‘cool’ about all he did. In recent times I had not seen a lot of him but nevertheless I will miss him and that quiet smile.”

Andrew Hildebrand, who worked with Leventhal as C4’s head of business affairs, added: “One of the main reasons we have a thriving independent production sector in the UK is because of Channel 4, and on the business side, Colin was its architect. He helped shape C4’s ethos and never lost sight of the fact that ‘business and legal’ were there to support producers. Even the term ‘business affairs’ was designed to make it feel more collegiate. In the first week, C4 was so keen to get things moving, he sent his assistant on a bike to the production company with a draft contract and a cheque. Colin was extremely capable, unflappable, and very likeable. He was the nicest boss you could dream of having.”

“Colin Leventhal represented the very essence of Film4 and Channel 4, and the foundations Colin (and David Aukin) built made the rest of the world sit up and take notice of British film again, restoring the UK’s lustre as a culturally rich, exciting place to make films,” Film4 Chief Daniel Battsek told Deadline. “They were pivotal to the UK film renaissance of the late 80s and early 90s, recreating the independent film model and paving the way for UK industry partnerships with US specialty distributors that survive to this day. Along with many others from that period I have nothing but great memories of Colin, whether comparing notes on movies or battling it out on various tennis courts. As many have mentioned Colin was hugely respected for his decency as much as his taste but he was smart and decisive along with it. He was a pleasure to be around professionally or socially, always warm and generous to a generation of execs who came through on his watch. From all at Film4 and Channel 4, our thoughts are with Trea and his family.” 

Neil Chordia, who worked with Leventhal at Priority Pictures, said, “It was my first day back on set producing today, post lockdown and it was massively overshadowed by the hearing the news of Colin’s passing. He was a very generous and supportive boss and mentor and working for him at Priority helped shaper me into the producer I am today. Witty and urbane, he gave so much to the UK film industry and my heart goes out to Trea and his daughters.”

“Colin was the most amazing man, he had time for everyone. He was clever, charming and was always so generous with his time,” said UK film publicist Julia Jones.

“Colin was the nicest and most generous man in the UK film industry. He was incredibly helpful and kind to me when I was a young filmmaker,” added filmmaker Barnaby Thompson. “You could always call him for advice. He became a great friend and was always a joy to spend time with. He loved Trea who introduced him to the delights of the East Coast summer. My abiding memory of him will be sitting on Wyborg Beach in East Hampton, revelling in the sunshine. He was a lovely man.”

“I remember first meeting Colin in the course of some negotiation with Channel 4 when I was at Miramax in the 90s,” said Andrew Herwitz. “His manner was, to say the least, a stark contrast to that of my then boss-Harvey. As I was getting pulverized for some perceived misdeed, I recall Colin’s kindness and empathy; he ushered me aside and reminded me that this would pass and I shouldn’t take it to heart. He was a life raft in that a stormy sea. Over the years my wife and I became friends with Colin and Trea. He will be missed by so many on both sides of the Atlantic.”

Fond remembrances have also flooded in on Facebook, including from former C4 and Miramax exec Jack Lechner – “Colin’s incisive intelligence was matched with a sly, dry wit and a respect for creative people” – former Miramax International sales chief David Linde – “Colin did so many amazing things but today I am remembering him…as always, incredibly compassionate and welcoming” – as well as numerous others.

I will be adding further tributes as they come in, check back for updates.

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