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Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme dies at 73

Director Jonathan Demme died on Wednesday (April 25) at the age of 73, following complications from oesophagal cancer, according to a report from the BBC. The Oscar-winning director is perhaps best known for ...
April 27, 2017

Director Jonathan Demme died on Wednesday (April 25) at the age of 73, following complications from oesophagal cancer, according to a report from the BBC.

The Oscar-winning director is perhaps best known for the 1991 award-winning thriller Silence of the Lambs, starring Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkin’s as a chilling Hannibal Lector. The film went on to critical and box office success, becoming only the third film to win the “big five” at the Oscars: best picture, director, actress, actor and screenplay.

Demme was also an accomplished documentary filmmaker with a range of titles to his name.

Early in his career, he directed the 1984 film Stop Making Sense about the rock band The Talking Heads. He would go on to direct many more docs on famous musicians including the 2006 feature Neil Young: Heart of Gold, which was shot during a two-night performance Young gave at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

Demme’s most recent musical doc, Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids was produced for Netflix and showed Timberlake’s final performance on his 20/20 Experience World Tour, filmed in 2015 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

In an October 2016 review of the concert, film critic Brian Tallerico noted Demme’s directorial instincts.

“It’s about projecting his presence, and what people feel at his shows, through a camera. It’s something that Demme, the director of the best concert film of all time (Stop Making Sense), knows how to do better than pretty much anyone.” 

Social issues and those who were working to make a difference also caught the eye of Demme. In 2003′s The Agronomist, he turned the camera to Jean Dominique, a Haitian radio journalist and human rights activist who was assassinated in 2000.

Former president Jimmy Carter became the subject of the directors 2007 film, Jimmy Carter Man from Plains. Demme followed Carter on his U.S. tour as he promoted his provocative book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.

The director took audiences into the post-hurricane Katrina world in New Orleans in his mini docuseries Right to Return: New Home Movies from the Lower Ninth Ward. Demme took his camera to the hurricane-hit city to those who were trying to rebuild their lives.

Speaking to his decision to shoot in New Orleans after it had been ravaged, he told The New York Times in May 2007, “I just thought everyone who can point a camera in the right direction should go down there and point a camera in the right direction.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article attributed the October 2016 review of Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids to Roger Ebert.  Film critic Brian Tallerico was the original author. realscreen regrets this error.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for HMV.com. As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.

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