Talk/Show, Day 3: Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad for Eric Pleskow
Eric Pleskow at DFS Honors
By Jessica Tomberlin
The 2012 Dallas International Film Festival’s final Talk/Show Panel featured a Hollywood figure not known to many casual film enthusiasts. But the long list of movies mandated by DIFF 2012 Special Honoree Eric Pleskow during his days as head of United Artists and Orion Pictures make him as important a figure as any actor in history.
On that list are 14 Best Picture Oscar winners—not nominees: winners like ROCKY, ANNIE HALL, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, PLATOON. Pleskow, who turns 88 on Tuesday, talked about his life, from his humble upbringing in Vienna, Austria, to becoming one of the most influential figures in the history of film.
He said he got into the film industry “by accident, like most things in life. Being in the right place at the right time is always something you know afterward, not at the time. But I always said yes to every challenge that came my way.”
After his family emigrated to the US in 1938, Pleskow was drafted into the Army during World War II and eventually became a film advisor for the U.S. War Department. After the war, he ended up as a film officer in Germany, rebuilding Bavaria Film Studios.
“Slowly I got into the business,” said Pleskow, who had his doubts about the line of work. “I thought, I really don’t want to be in this industry where people act the way they do, where their word doesn’t mean anything.”
He actually left film for a short period before landing at United Artists in 1951, where he eventually headed international distribution before becoming its chief in 1973. He attributed his personal philosophy to his success in attracting great people, and great films, to him.
“There were a number of things we needed to approve: the script or the book the story was based upon, the director, and the principal actors,” he said, “and then we kind of left them alone. I tried to stick to that principle.”
It was this hands-off approach that attracted film visionaries such as Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen to United Artists, not to mention films like Milos Forman’s ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, which swept all five major Academy Award categories in 1975—only the second of three films ever to do so. (The third: 1991’s THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, also under Pleskow’s watch at Orion Pictures).
Pleskow also talked about the way film has changed today, and the growing importance of festivals such as the Dallas International Film Festival to the industry as a whole.
“I think the film festivals are so important for young people who want to get involved in this industry and are sick of seeing the same thing over and over,” he said. “Film festivals are the only way for those risk-takers to get their films made now.”