May 23, 2024

John Tilley, a longtime distribution exec and advocate for independent film at companies including United Artists Classics, Cinevista and Strand, who was instrumental in introducing the films of Pedro Almodovar to U.S. audiences, died Sunday in New York City. He was 75.

“John was always a consummate encyclopedia of knowledge of the industry, and his pool of friends and colleagues from around the globe always created a sense of family in Cannes, Berlin and more. His work at Strand Releasing was invaluable,” said Marcus Hu, co-president of Strand Releasing.

Born in Columbia, S.C., he graduated from the University of South Carolina. Starting out at Libra Films, Tilley got his start in specialized film exhibition and distribution working with pioneering distributor Ben Barenholtz, handling the releases of films including David Lynch’s “Eraserhead” and Derek Jarman’s “Sebastiane.”

As National Sales Director at United Artists Classics, he expanded from the company’s activities from repertory film to first-run theatrical releases and films from outside United Artists.

Tilley went on to co-found Cinevista, Inc., with Rene Fuentes, acquiring and releasing the first eight features from Almodovar, as well as titles from Jarman, Paul Morrissey, Jonathan Demme and M. Night Shyamalan.

With Joy Pereths, Tilly founded ProActive in 1997, which focused on empowering independent filmmakers in the U.K. and Europe, representing Ken Loach’s Parallax Films, Film 4, the British Council and British Screen Finance.

He then worked as an independent distribution consultant on specialty films and documentaries including Ronnie Larson’s “Shooting Porn” and Slava Tsukerman’s “Perestroika,” and helped establish home video distribution departments at Picture This! Entertainment and at Overseas/First Look.

Tilley joined Strand Releasing in 2001, overseeing home video distribution of numerous titles, including Gregg Araki’s “Mysterious Skin,” Fatih Akin’s “Head-On” and Lucrecia Martel’s “The Headless Woman.”

As executive VP acquisitions and theatrical distribution for Olive Films, he managed the release of 10 features, include three which were their countries’ submissions for foreign language Oscars.

More recently, he served as sales rep for Simon Glass’ documentary “The Last Tribe” and Mike Malloy’s “Eurocrime.”

He is survived by his lifelong partner, William Byler.

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