Obituary: Don Getz

Don Getz, film distributor: born Chicago 28 March 1920; married 1943 Charlotte Ettinger (two daughters; marriage dissolved 1963); died London 22 August London 1993.

DON GETZ was born in Chicago and grew up in New York, but will be remembered as an international figure in films, an independent film distributor, producer's representative and sales agent. He was, says Jeremy Thomas - whose early film The Great Rock 'n Roll Swindle Getz had helped to sell - 'one of the unique band of warrior salesmen who are an important part of putting together films': not the employees of the leading American studios, but the men with small companies to whom foreign and 'art-house' film-makers must turn if they ever hope to be given adequate distribution. The essential connecting link between independent, avant-garde cinema and its public.

After an early career in radio, records and comedy-writing and a wartime posting as an air force sergeant in Florida, Getz, in partnership with his brother-in-law Jules Buck, brought the films of Jacques Tati to America: Mr Hulot's Holiday and Jour de Fete. They also brought Clouzot's Les Diaboliques. Later remarkable films that owed their distribution to him include Joe, Attenborough's Seance on a Wet Afternoon, and Too Bad She's Bad. In recent years he concentrated on films from Holland, particularly the work of the highly regarded director Jos Stelling. He also championed the film A Year of the Quiet Sun by the Polish director Krysztof Zanussi.

Don Getz had a classically handsome, Roman face, and a permanently youthful bearing, contradicted by a certain avoirdupois. His personality was a uniquely reassuring blend of highly sophisticated, ironic humour, laid-back tolerance, and a total lack of awe. An independent thinker unimpressed by power and unfazed by fashions, he went his own way and collected in his wake so many friends that to walk down the street with him at the Cannes Film Festival was to understand for the first time the feeling of being mobbed.

While his company Playpont Films was headquartered in London, Getz's turf stretched from the Milan MIFED to the American Film Market in Los Angeles, with a particular stretch of wholly owned territory that encompassed the entire Croisette at the Cannes Festival. Every year at the Martinez a slew of rooms, some mysterious cubbyholes without numbers and a suite, were reserved for him, and from here he persuaded Japanese and South African and US exhibitors of the virtues of showing such films as Caligula or The Great Catherine.

As my uncle, Don Getz was for me a down-to-earth interpreter of the adult world who managed to make the worst dramas seem funny. For the last 20 years I have been discovering that no matter what new people or places I discovered, Uncle Don had already been there and made them his own.