Long Awaited Documentary by Professor Ira Deutchman Premieres Next Month

BY Gina Hackett, October 21, 2019

Searching for Mr. Rugoff, a documentary directed by professor Ira Deutchman, will have its world premiere at the DOC NYC Festival this November.


This feature documentary recounts the untold story behind maverick filmmaker and champion of independent film Donald Rugoff, who founded the film exhibition and distribution company Cinema 5 in the 1960s.


“When I first started making this movie...all I knew was that I was taping interviews with people I was worried were going to disappear on me because they were getting up there in age,” Deutchman said. “And at a certain point when I realized there was potentially a movie in it, I actually went out and bought a very portable camera and sound setup and started traveling all over the world doing interviews. And everywhere I went, I sent out an email to Columbia alums, and I managed to get Columbia alums to sit behind the camera with me all over the world, which makes this very much a Columbia collaboration.”


As Rugoff’s former employee, Deutchman draws on colorful interviews with Rugoff’s family and friends, and from a rich archive dating back to Rugoff’s hay day as a legendary figure of the New York City movie-going scene. Rugoff was known for establishing several preeminent movie theaters around New York City and for his eye catching marketing schemes. 


In his day, Rugoff was responsible for the release of many films that are now considered hallmarks of the 1960s independent film scene. He was also considered by some colleagues and friends an unruly personality, full of impetuous decisions despite what Deutchman describes as his “genius when it came to marketing films.”


“In the process of making the movie...I was able to come to terms emotionally with my ambivalent feelings about him,” Deutchman said. “I was able to discover the truth about a lot of rumors flying around about him, but I also realized that he had this dramatic impact on my life that I didn't acknowledge until many years later.”


“I find myself drawing upon things that I learned from him even as I teach classes now, all these years later… And as I’m beginning to market the film, I’m finding myself doing things that I feel like he might have done.”


Early in his career, Deutchman rose to Director of Acquisitions at Cinema 5, where he worked on such classics as Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage, Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and Barbara Kopple’s Harlan County USA. Cinema 5 also released Dusan Makavejev’s W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism and the Maysles Brothers’ Gimme Shelter, to name a few.


Deutchman’s previous work as a producer includes co-founding Cinecom, which released such films as James Ivory’s A Room with a View and Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense. He also created Fine Line Features, which acquired and released such classics as Gus van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho, Robert Altman’s The Player, and Mike Leigh’s Naked.


“The story told in the movie is such a New York story, and the place where I really wanted to premiere it was, I guess you’d say, with the hometown crowd,” Deutchman said. “There’s a lot of people who do remember Rugoff, and who remember his theaters and his movies, and hopefully they’re going to make up a large part of the audience for the film.”

DOC NYC is an annual documentary film festival showcasing new documentary achievements at three theaters in the West Village and Chelsea. The festival was founded in 2010 and is the largest documentary film festival in New York City. Searching for Mr. Rugoff is playing November 8th and 12th and viewers can purchase tickets online now.