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Obituaries

Jonas Rosenfield; Headed Independent-Film Trade Group

June 01, 2000|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jonas Rosenfield, the former president of the American Film Marketing Assn. who helped independent filmmakers compete with major studios in selling movies abroad through his ever-burgeoning annual American Film Market, died Wednesday. He was 84.

Rosenfield, who retired from the trade group two years ago, died at his home in Pacific Palisades, according to his wife, former Times researcher Nina Green.

Known for his wry humor and gentle voice, he was often described as the consummate diplomat and the voice of the independents.

"Rosenfield, sometimes referred to as the Jack Valenti of the independents," said the Hollywood Reporter, when Rosenfield announced his pending retirement, "is credited with taking on a disparate, bickering group of indies and welding it into a strong international trade association that has clout similar to the Valenti-led Motion Picture Assn. in Washington, Brussels (European Union headquarters) and with government agencies dealing with film industry matters in most countries throughout the world."

Rosenfield, who joined the marketing association in 1983 and became its first paid president in 1985, developed the prestigious American Film Market, staged annually in Santa Monica, to counter the rising cost of doing business at the Cannes Film Festival in France.

The Santa Monica event--for buyers and sellers of international film rights for use in theaters, on television and on video--grew tenfold during Rosenfield's tenure, from about three dozen exhibiting companies to more than 300. Revenue from the foreign sale of English-language movies also rose steadily under his guidance, topping $2.3 billion the year he retired.

The marketing association, which has grown from a handful of members to more than 150, represents both art and mass market films, and has served as a trade group for such companies as Miramax and New Line. Its top-selling mass market fare has been illustrated in recent years by such releases as "Dumb and Dumber" and its art films by such movies as "The English Patient," "Shine" and "Sling Blade."

"The quality of film is going up," Rosenfield told The Times at his retirement in 1998. "It used to be mostly exploitative films. Buyers today don't want this kind of product as much."

Unable to compete with the major studios, which throw lavish parties to sell their products in Cannes, the independents gratefully accepted Rosenfield's attempts to standardize how they did business.

Through his leadership, the marketing association created model contracts for movie sales, campaigned for worldwide copyright protection, compiled books of information so buyers and sellers would have ready access to market data in 50 or more countries, created a system to evaluate the credit ratings of buyers, established a title-verification service to thwart pirating, hired a full-time representative in Europe and set up an arbitration system to settle disputes between producers and distributors.

The standardization is economically important, not only for selling films abroad, but also because it helps independent filmmakers obtain bank financing based on clear legal understanding.

Rosenfield's work made his association, in the marketing motto he established, the premier representative of the independent English-language film industry.

"Our logo is a badge of respectability in a bazaar," Rosenfield once told The Times. "I have seen the major studios transformed from being solely in the movie business to being multimedia, multinational conglomerates. Now the independents are the only section of the business that's only in movies."

Rosenfield's 15 years with the association, at a time in life when most people would pursue golf or fishing or other retirement activities, capped his more than 60-year career in the motion picture business.

The native Texan, a lifelong devotee of foreign films, was an executive at Italian Films Export after World War II and for many years served on the Oscar-nominating committee for foreign-language films. He started out in the advertising department at Warner Bros. in 1936 and became a senior marketing executive for such studios as Columbia Pictures and 20th Century Fox.

It is little wonder that, having spent so long in the industry he loved, he devoted himself over the last year or so of his "retirement" to producing a documentary about his grandfather, Samuel Ullman, whom he described as "a self-educated Southern Jew who fought on the wrong side of the Civil War." The grandfather had turned to poetry in his 80s and wrote a work that found a worldwide following, perhaps best exemplified by how Rosenfield himself lived his long life.

Titled "Youth," it says in part:

*

Youth is not a time of life,

It is a state of mind.

It is not a matter of rosy cheeks,

red lips and supple knees,

It is a matter of will, a quality of

the imagination, a vigor of

emotions.

It is the freshness of the deep

springs in life.

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