John Korty, director of ‘Miss Jane Pittman’, dies at 85

His family confirmed his death and said he suffered from vascular dementia.

Mr. Korty was a key figure in the independent film movement that settled in northern California in the 1960s and 1970s, hundreds of miles physically and philosophically from Hollywood studios to the south.

“I was in rebellion against Hollywood movies,” Mr. Korty told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I thought whatever they were doing, I wasn’t going to do it. I thought Hollywood movies were contrived. They used too much makeup. I was basically trying to come back from that with real people and realistic dialogue and shots without a lot of lights and filters. … I just made the movie the way I wanted to make it.

Mr. Korty was nominated for two Oscars and shared one. His victory honored “Who are the DeBolts?” And Where Did They Have Nineteen Children?”, a 1977 documentary he made about a couple and the children they adopted, some of whom were war orphans.

A version of the documentary aired on ABC and won Mr. Korty a 1979 Emmy. He had previously received an Emmy – one of nine that went to production – for “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” which aired on CBS and remains one of the most beloved TV movies of its time.

Based on a 1971 novel by Ernest J. Gaines, the film featured Tyson in his most notable role, as the titular 110-year-old protagonist, his life embodying the African-American experience in the 19th and 20th centuries. Pauline Kael, the New Yorker film critic, was quoted as declaring the film “quite possibly the best film ever made for American television”.

Unlike many moviegoers who view TV movies as an inferior class of film, Mr. Korty saw the genre as a way to directly reach households across America.

“I wouldn’t give up on TV movies,” he told The New York Times in 1986. “There’s nothing like the response you get. Fifty million people saw ‘Jane Pittman’ in one night. It’s very different from even the biggest blockbuster movie.

Mr. Korty then directed the NBC television movie “Farewell to Manzanar” (1976), about the internment camps in the western United States where thousands of Japanese and Japanese-Americans were held during the Second World War.

Many of Mr. Korty’s more than 40 directing credits have explored social concerns. “Go Ask Alice,” which aired on ABC in 1973, was described by The Times as “one of the first TV movies to deal with teenage drug addiction.”

In “Resting Place,” a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie that aired on CBS in 1986, Mr. Korty directed John Lithgow as an army officer who assists the parents (played by Morgan Freeman and CCH Pounder) with the burial of their son, an African-American soldier killed in the Vietnam War.

Mr. Korty’s film “Redwood Curtain,” another Hallmark Hall of Fame production starring Lithgow, aired on ABC in 1995. An adaptation of a Lanford Wilson play, too, explored the legacy and wounds of Vietnam.

Mr. Korty enjoyed variety in his job, telling the Marin Independent Journal in 2011 that “for me, my job is like a vacation and I don’t like going to the same place over and over again.

Mr. Korty directed “Oliver’s Story,” a 1978 sequel to “Love Story” that starred Ryan O’Neal and Candice Bergen. In the animation category, he directed short films for the educational children’s television program “Sesame Street” and co-wrote and co-directed “Twice Upon a Time” (1983) under executive producer George Lucas.

Mr. Korty also directed “Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure,” a 1984 TV movie co-written and produced by Lucas about the furry creatures of the Star Wars franchise.

Mr. Korty had met Lucas in the late 1960s when Lucas, then in his twenties, replaced Francis Ford Coppola, the co-founder of the San Francisco-based studio American Zoetrope, at a panel discussion where Mr. Korty was also on the program.

“George grabbed me by the shoulder,” Mr. Korty told the Chronicle, “and said, ‘We have to find a payphone. I’ll call Francis because you’re doing exactly what he says he wants to do – making movies outside of Hollywood. “

John Van Cleave Korty was born in Lafayette, Indiana on June 22, 1936. His father was an engineer and his mother a nurse.

Mr. Korty grew up in Santa Monica, California, and Kirkwood, Missouri, before moving to Ohio and attending college. He earned a bachelor’s degree in communication media from Antioch College in 1959.

He began exploring filmmaking as a college student and pursued his career in earnest after settling in California. Moviegoers and critics alike quickly took notice. His short documentary “Breaking the Habit” (1965), an anti-smoking production made with the American Cancer Society, was nominated for an Oscar.

Mr. Korty attracted even wider attention at the end of the decade with three films – “The Crazy-Quilt” (1966), “Funnyman” (1967) and “riverrun” (1968) – which seemed to capture the spirit of independence. movie theater. He sometimes acted as a cameraman, in addition to director.

“I feel a lot more like I own a movie if I’m using a camera,” he told The Times. “It kind of burns into the retina. I can go back to my hotel room, lie on the bed, close my eyes and watch the dailies in my head,” he added, referring to the raw, unedited footage from a day of filming. .

Mr Korty’s marriages to Carol Tweedie and Beulah Chang ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 32 years, Jane Silvia of Point Reyes Station; two sons from his second marriage, David Korty of Los Angeles and Jonathan Korty of Fairfax, California; a son from his third marriage, Gabriel Korty of Point Reyes Station; a brother; a sister; and three grandchildren.

“I’m addicted to filmmaking as a process,” Mr. Korty told The Times. “I just wish I had three or four lives, because then I could be an animator in one life, a documentary filmmaker in another, and a drama filmmaker in the third. … I think every director’s upbringing has a direct relationship with the number of feet of film he has shot. The more films you make, the more you learn.

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