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World Cinema Champion, Newton Native Krim Dies

This article is more than 8 years old.

A cinema champion and Newton native who introduced American audiences to some of the world's greatest films and filmmakers died in New York on Friday.

Donald B. Krim, president of the independent film distribution company Kino International and co-president of Kino Lorber, Inc., first nurtured his passion for cinema in Massachusetts movie houses, and eventually went on to import films by directors Wong Kar-Wai ("Happy Together," "Fallen Angels"), Michael Haneke ("The Piano Teacher") and Aki Kaurismäki ("The Match Factory Girl," "Ariel") to the U.S.

Donald Krim (Courtesy Kino International)
Donald Krim (Courtesy Kino International)

The story behind Krim's lifelong love affair with film is quite sweet. It all started when he was only 5 years old with the 1950 Disney classic "Cinderella," according to a death notice from Kino International.

One summer day Krim's older brother Arthur took him to a matinee showing at the Surf Theatre on the North Shore. According to family lore, Donald refused to leave the auditorium, then proceeded to watch "Cinderella" two more times before finally agreeing to go home to his parents. His father was an engineer and executive at the Massachusetts company Raytheon.

Krim went to school at Buckingham Browne & Nichols School in Cambridge and produced several plays in his high school drama club.

In 1967, he left Boston for New York to attend college at Columbia University. Krim stayed at the school to get a law degree in 1971, then started working at the United Artists in the 16mm non-theatrical film rental division. While there, Krim had a hand in creating the first art house division owned by a major studio.

The movie-lover's destiny came into full focus with the help of William Pence, his peer and fellow cinephile. In the '70s, Pence was working at Janus Films, an indie distribution company created by Harvard students and associated with the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge. Janus held the rights to major world cinema classics like Fritz Lang's "M" and Federico Felini's "La Strada." Pence moved on to found Kino International, then Krim purchased the company from Pence in 1977.

The Kino catalog was solid, but Krim set his sights on expanding it with now-iconic titles, including Charlie Chaplin films like "Modern Times" and "The Great Dictator," but also "Rebecca and "Notorious" by Alfred Hitchcock. Then, around 1979, Kino started distributing new releases from around the globe. With this move, Krim helped fuel the golden age of art house cinema in the U.S.

Next came video. In 1987 Kino's Home Entertainment Division gave movie-lovers the opportunity to engage with international works from the comfort of their couches.

Krim ushered Kino through each format revolution, including DVDs. Kino has also released re-issues and restorations at a steady clip.

One of his biggest moments in this century came in 2002 when he took personal responsibility for re-releasing two different restorations of Fritz Lang's "Metropolis." The first, in 2002, celebrated the classic, black-and-white film's 75th anniversary. Then large chunks of long lost footage from "Metropolis" were discovered in Argentina and an updated version was released in 2010.

Movie fans have also been able to see the 50th anniversary restoration of "The Bicycle Thief," and Sergei Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin," restored in HD.

Over the course of his career Krim received many awards for contributing to the exposure and growth of world cinema, including The Visionary Award at the 24th Annual Israel Film Festival, the Film Preservation Honors Award from the Anthology Film Archives in New York, and the Mel Novikoff Award from the San Francisco Film Festival. He's widely credited with raising the public's awareness and fostering it's appreciation of works from other countries.

In an email William Pence, now a film historian and professor at Dartmouth University, shared some kind words about his peer: "We were very saddened to hear of Don Krim's death. Don was a true gentleman, a man whose handshake was his bond. Over the years we had worked together on various projects and it was always challenging and always a pleasure. His taste, kindness, vision, absolute honesty and integrity will be sorely missed in a business, to say nothing of a world, where those values are a scarcity."

Krim died in his New York home after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 65 and is survived by his wife Susan Benjamin and their children Miriam and Simon. Krim's two brothers, Arthur J. Krim and Robert Krim, still live in the Boston area.

Donald Krim's funeral service is planned for Monday morning, May 23, at Riverside Memorial Chapel, located on 180 West 76th St. in New York. It's open to the public.

A memorial service is planned for late June.

This program aired on May 21, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

Andrea Shea Twitter Senior Arts Reporter
Andrea Shea is WBUR's arts reporter.

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