The email brought the sad news: “Heute morgen ist Ron Holloway gestorben”.
Even without my limited grad school German, the news was clear, “Ron Holloway died this morning”.
Ron, friend to all, mentor and teacher to many, died December 16, after a long bout with cancer. During his lifetime, he provided informed coverage of all the major film festivals to a wide variety of media outlets. He also gave his time generously by adding his personal cache to the smallest festivals.
His last festival was Cannes, 2009. He wrote to friends that he was going in for tests after Cannes. It was cancer; by November, he was dead.
Ron was 76. He is survived by his wife Dorothea Moritz, with whom, for over 30 years, he co-founded and co-edited the journal, KINO German Film.
In that posting he introduced readers to the animated film, Waltz with Bashir, which depicts the anguish of an Israeli solider who witnessed the massacre at Sabra and Shatila.
In his 2008 review, Ron wrote of Waltz with Bashir:
This is the one film in the 2008 Cannes competition that you cannot easily forget. The traumatic journey of the filmmaker himself into his own past as a young soldier during the Lebanon Crisis, the story is told in hand-drawn comic-book fashion that spotlight confessional reports by eyewitnesses on what really happened in June of 1982, when Israeli forces invaded Lebanon.
Ron was a Catholic priest living and teaching in Chicago when I first met him. He had earned his BA and MA degrees in Chicago and was ordained as a Catholic priest by the Archdiocese of Chicago, on May 9, 1959.
He worked with Msgr. Daniel Cantwell at the Catholic Adult Education Centers, and together with Cantwell, and a lay Catholic, high school teacher Henry Herx, founded the National Center for Film Study (NCFS) in Chicago.
The NCFS evolved into a remarkable center which produced study guides for 16 mm films to be used in local parishes. These guides were largely written by Ron and Henry Herx. They were mimeographed (long before computers existed) for distribution, first to parishes, then, as word spread, to Protestant, Jewish, and secular educational outlets.
In my basement, I have a box filled with those early guides, for which I became responsible after Henry Herx moved to New York to work for the National Catholic Film Office, and Ron found his way to Germany.
Before these two Catholic teachers left Chicago, they converted the NCFS into an ecumenical center. As a Protestant editor-clergy-critic-teacher who loved film, I became the de facto NCFS president and custodian “for life”, of a significant chapter in the history of US religious film study.
Ron Holloway inspired me to “take film seriously”, which I have attempted to do as a critic and teacher since those halcyon days when official religious circles and the motion picture industry began a national creative relationship, a relationship for which Ron Holloway deserves major credit.
I was not surprised to see Ron move his film sensibility and passion to Europe and continue a teaching role there, an assignment he had carried out in Chicago.
Europe was a far more fertile field than the United States for the study of film and the interaction of religion and film. In Europe, the churches, Catholic and Protestant, take film far more “seriously” than we do in the United States. It is in this sense that Canada, with its festivals in Toronto and Montreal, is more European than North America in film outlook.
The most recent award honoring Ron’s long career in film was the Honorary Award of the German Film Critics’ Association (VDFK) during the Christmas Industry Get-Together of Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg in Berlin. The award was announced December 9, 2009, a week before his death.
In the presentation, VDFX spokesman Hanns-Georg Rodek described Ron as a “film journalist, film historian and documentary filmmaker”. He was that and, of course, much more to the world of cinema, where his film criticism, friendship with fellow film lovers, and careful scholarship left such an imprint.
The VDFX award “honors, in particular, his tireless commitment for the international circulation of German and East European cinema.” Hanns-Georg Rodek said of the honoree, “The New German Cinema of the 70s owes its worldwide success considerably to the journalistic support from Ron Holloway.”
Ron and Dorothea have lived in Berlin since 1976, moving there from Hamburg after Ron was invited by the newly appointed Berlinale festival director, Wolf Donner, to serve on the Berlinale selection committee with a special responsibility for Russia. That work evolved into further research from which Ron originated a databank on film directors from the republics of the former USSR.
After 1976, Ron started work as the Berlin-based correspondent in film, television, and the media for Variety, the Hollywood Reporter, Moving Pictures International and International Film Guide. He wrote frequently on film, theatre and cultural affaires for the Financial Times and the Herald Tribune.
In Berlin, Ron set up the “German Films” sidebar, at Wolf Donner’s first Berlinale Festival in 1977, focusing on previously neglected German films. Dorothea served on the selection committee of the Berlinale’s Kinderfilmfest for 19 years, starting in 1976.
In the autumn of 1979, Ron and Dorothea launched a new film magazine dedicated to German cinema, KINO – German Film. A welcome sight on the festival circuit was to see Ron moving about with copies of KINO, serving as his own personal distribution agent.
In an interview that appeared in the Fall 2009 issue of KINO, Dorothea was asked to describe the launching of the magazine.
Ron had seen a number of really good German films by people like Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Reinhard Hauff and Uwe Brandner, but realized that nobody knew them in America.
He went to the late Jochen Wilke at the German Federal Film Board (FFA) to see if they could give support for a German Film Tour. Ron then put the program together and we needed a catalogue to accompany the Film Tour – and that’s how the first issue of KINO came about.
In that same KINO issue, Ron added:
The German Film Tour was the first time we broke the ice with regard to the aesthetics of German cinema in America. We knew that there were about 20-30 art houses in the States which were all hungry for German films to be shown in subtitled prints!
The first issue was dedicated to Lotte Eisner and that was very important because she was a great supporter of Werner Herzog who was also one of my favorites.
Ron has long been an important presence at the annual Montreal World Film Festival, which I regularly attend. Serge Losique, the founder of the MWFF, has a native’s European sensibility. He also had a special fondness for Ron Holloway, inviting him to attend the festival as a regular critic and advisor.
Losique has found Protestant and Catholic partners willing to provide an annual ecumenical jury presence at the MWFF. I suspect Ron Holloway encouraged him in this project.
At the 2009 MWFF, I encountered Losique in the festival hotel lobby. Together we lamented the absence of Ron Holloway from that edition of the festival. We both knew of his cancer but hoped he might eventually return to the festival circuit.
It was the absence of Ron that Losique wanted to talk about. We spent nearly an hour in a not-so-secluded corner of the lobby, he waving at passers-by, as we remembered Ron’s many years on the festival circuit.
The journey that came to an end for Ron Holloway on December 16, 2009, began 76 years ago on November 26, 1933, when he was born in his grandmother’s house, in Peoria, Illinois during a family visit.
Ron was the third in a family of six children. The family lived for Ron’s first nine years in the farming community of Momence, Illinois, 60 miles from Chicago, where Ron attended a one room rural schoolhouse.
The family moved to Chicago where Ron was baptized into his mother’s St. Michael’s Lithuanian Church. His father was a “Yankee Baptist,” a parentage which could have contributed to Ron’s ecumenical worldview.
Since moving to Germany 40 years ago, Ron has covered the film festival circuit from the major festivals in Berlin, Cannes, and Montreal, to the smallest festivals of Europe and East Asia. His presence at a festival was always a command performance.
Walking with him through a festival hotel lobby was a slow process. He would encounter directors, producers, actors and critics who needed to say just one more word to Ron, often in the strictest confidence.
He will be greatly missed by the many who knew him, or benefited from his writings and his teaching at institutions that included the University of Maryland Overseas Program. He also conducted film seminars for the Evangelische Akademien in German.
His ecumenical outreach found an outlet when for many years he was co-editor with Jan Hes, of Interfilm Reports.
His published books reflect the wide variety of his film scholarship. They include Z is for Zagreb, Beyond the Image, O is for Oberhausen, KINO SlovenianFilm, the Bulgarian Cinema, Goran Paskalkevic, the Human Tragicomedy, and KINO Macedonian Film.
The World Council of Churches (WCC), in cooperation with INTERFILM, published his book, Beyond the Image. Approaches to the religious dimension in the cinema, in 1977.
He was the first Catholic to earn a doctorate in Evangelical Theology at the University of Hamburg, writing on the films of Carl Dreyer, Ingmar Bergman and Robert Bresson.
I conclude these reflections with a personal word: Ron Holloway was my mentor, my teacher, my inspiration, my cherished friend, and a giant in the world of film as an art form. He never deviated from his belief that film was God’s way of sharing His presence with the world. For Ron, film was an incarnation of the divine.
Wall Writings will return with a new posting the week of January 5, 2010.
The picture above of Ron Holloway is from the Website, Cinema Without Borders.
This posting on Ron’s career appears through the courtesy of Media Development, a World Association of Christian Communications magazine, published in Toronto. I wrote this tribute at the request of Media Development editor Philip Lee. It will be published in the 1/2010 issue of Media Development.