’The Storms of Jeremy Thomas’ documentary screens at the Riviera Theatre on Sept. 27, followed by a Q&A with Thomas. | Credit: Courtesy

Perhaps out of ignorance or general befuddlement, the director-centric film freaks among us may still have trouble comprehending the producer’s role in cinema. Are they liaisons to the studios, for gain or loss? Are they visionaries by proxy, money changers, creative enablers and sounding boards — or all of the above? And why do they get to grab the Best Film Oscar?

Jeremy Thomas, the veteran art film producer and subject of the intriguing documentary The Storms of Jeremy Thomas puts his finger on one pithy description of his day job, deep into the film: “putting together people, ideas and money.”

Setting aside the money equation, Thomas’ life in cinema has found him manifesting important, often left-of-center and highly creative “people and ideas.” His filmography includes Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (for which Thomas got a grab and gab moment a Best Film Oscar), and the Italian director’s The Sheltering Sky and the spicy The Dreamers; such David Cronenberg classics as Naked Lunch and the controversial Crash; British iconoclast Nicholas Roeg’s films, including Bad Timing and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence; and Richard Linklater’s Fast Food Nation, on a list of dozens of Thomas-produced projects.

He’s been there, done that on important and risk-taking films going back to the ‘70s, making him a worthy doc topic. The Storms of Jeremy Thomas screens at the Riviera Theatre on Wednesday, September 27, and a Q&A with Thomas himself follows. (Check out the trailer here for a look at some of the film.)

Taking a refreshing detour away from documentary formula, director Mark Cousins devised a mongrel doc in which he travels from Thomas’ London home by car to the Cannes Festival in 2019. The official reason for the oft-made pilgrimage was Thomas’ presentation of his then-current project, Japanese director Takashi Miike’s First Love. But a broader picture of Thomas’ long, rich life in the picture business is the subject at hand. Cousins interviews the producer, but in non-synchronous sound, which makes for a distracting detachment, and follows the pair’s southward trek, with notable stops along the way.

Cousins is famed for his breathlessly encyclopedic modern film studies montages, for British television and the screen (including 2021’s dense and delicious The Story of Film: A New Generation, screened briefly at the Hitchcock last year). Cousins finds sneaky ways of bringing that montage-making cine-obsessive quality into the Thomas doc at times, with scenes from Thomas’ filmography and the wider realm of cinematic history.

At one point early in the film, Cousins compares Thomas’ relative economy of words and British reserve with his supposed Irish passion — this conveyed in Cousins’ trademarked nerdy, sometimes over-thought and over-written monotone (his hypnotic verbal ramble feels like the Irish variation on the theme of Werner Herzog).

When the talk turns to the sad state of present-day big box office Hollywood, fixated on sequels, superheroes, and commercial complacency over more artful projects, Thomas — a veteran of the indie film mindset — asserts that “independent spirit is a great thing to have in creativity. The further away you get from the center, the more original the work is.”

“I do love cinema too much,” Thomas admits. “It’s a virus I caught as a child, and I’ve infected others, I hope.” Voila, another trait of the mysterious producer trade — instilling a healthy cultural virus, to counter and maybe even ward off the evils and shallows of corporate Hollywood.

For more information on the screening and Q&A see sbiffriviera.com/cs/the-storms-of-jeremy-thomas.


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