Kartemquin Films co-founder Jerry Blumenthal dies at 78

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Jerry Blumenthal, a founding partner of Chicago documentary house Kartemquin Films (Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters), died Nov. 13 after battling cancer. He was 78.

“Jerry was my filmmaking partner for over four decades,” said Kartemquin co-founder Gordon Quinn in a statement. “His sense of story, people, politics, and art and artists, will be missed. With Kartemquin we went through good times and bad, but with Jerry we always found time to laugh.”



Blumenthal had worked at Kartemquin since the production of its first documentary in 1966, Home for Life, an examination of two older adults adjusting to life after arriving at a nursing home. Throughout his career he was involved in numerous projects as co-director, editor, sound recordist, writer or consultant. He worked on sound for American Dream, Barbara Kopple’s Oscar-winning feature about a meatpackers’ strike at a Hormel Foods plant in Minnesota.

He edited one recent Kartemquin film, Prisoner of Her Past, which has aired on public TV nationwide since 2011 through American Public Television. It follows a writer trying to understand his mother’s ongoing nightmares and trauma caused by her childhood memories of the Holocaust.

Blumenthal was born Dec. 27, 1936, in Chicago. He graduated from Roosevelt High School and received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Chicago.

In addition to his filmmaking career, Blumenthal taught English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and in Turkey, as well as humanities and film at Wright City College in Chicago.

Among the honors he received over his long documentary career was his selection as one of “85 people to watch in 1985” by the Chicago Tribune. “When a documentary is good, it has a function,” he told the newspaper. “It meets the needs of the audience.”

Blumenthal was diagnosed with cancer eight years ago and eventually went into remission. The disease returned earlier this year.

He was preceded in death by his parents and brother Allen. He is survived by his wife Vera and daughter Sami.

A memorial is being planned for early 2015. For information, contact Kartemquin at [email protected].

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