Seymour Wishman, producer and president of New York-based independent distribution company First Run Features, died Jan. 29 at his family home in Bridgewater, Connecticut. He was 79 years old.
Wishman’s family confirmed his death to The Hollywood Reporter Monday. A cause of death has not been shared.
First Run Features, formed in 1979, distributed projects including that of Michael Apted 28 years (Wishman eventually brought the whole At the top series in the United States); Spike Lee’s first feature film, 1983 Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: we cut heads; In the shadow of the stars, which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1992; and 2009 America’s Most Dangerous Man: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers.
The company has been involved in films by directors such as Peter Jackson, Alex Gibney, Michael Winterbottom, Jane Campion, David O. Russell and Claire Denis. On its 30th anniversary, First Run Features was honored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center for its “outstanding courage in distributing cutting-edge and sometimes controversial works”.
Wishman co-directed and produced sex and justice, a 1993 documentary about the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas. Because of its commitment to personal, political and alternative content, First Run Features was a founding member of Ovid, an independent film streaming service.
“He was a champion of underdogs and bold, honest, creative stories,” Wishman’s daughter, Samantha, wrote in a statement to THR. “But what really held him back for nearly 40 years in film was his admiration for the filmmakers he portrayed. No one understands this better than Marc Mauceri, who has worked at First Run for nearly 34 years. and who will take over as president, continuing his legacy and ushering in a new chapter for First Run Features.
In a statement obtained by THR, Mauceri described Wishman’s passing as “a great loss” to himself and his colleagues at First Run Features. “I learned a lot from him, not only about film distribution, but also about his many and varied passions, from Shakespeare to horse racing, from politics to the Talmud. And always, the most interesting, what it was that of growing up in a Jewish family in Newark in the mid-1900s. The stories he told were insightful, compassionate, intelligent and generally hilarious. And at the bottom of it all was his endless love for his wife and his daughter. He will live forever in all who knew him.
The son of Jewish immigrants, Wishman was born in the South Bronx and raised in Newark, New Jersey. He studied at Rutgers Law School and later practiced criminal law in New York and New Jersey, specializing in civil rights cases, before embarking on his film career. In 1977, Wishman served as Deputy Assistant to President Jimmy Carter in the White House.
“Seymour had the mind of a great lawyer, the courage of a successful entrepreneur and the heart of a mensch,” Martin Doblmeier, president of Journey Films, said in a statement. “More than twenty-five years ago, he tried my luck and it changed my life. I know a lot of filmmakers who can say the same.
In addition to his daughter, Wishman is survived by his wife, Nancy Burr Evans, and brother, Harvey Wishman.
8:10 p.m.: Added a statement from Wishman’s daughter, Samantha.