'The Best of the New York Erotic Film Festival' was released theatrically in July 1973 (although there is no official record, as it was never considered a feature film and tracked as such),yet it made more than $1 million at the box office in Canada.Containing 10 short erotic films,including a softcore rarity from Chuck Vincent called 'The Appointment' and another directed by Penelope Spheeris,and judged by names like Andy Warhol,Milos Forman and others,this film offers a real insight into the [sexual] glory days of those magnificent 70's.
Robert Lantos marches to the beat of his own drum. He is a successful Canadian business leader by default — or through serendipity as he calls it — and a feature film producer out of passion.
Those seeds of duality were planted early on when he and his hard-working Hungarian parents arrived in Montreal in 1963 and Lantos was a self-described 14-year-old "penniless immigrant who didn't speak a word of English or French."
By Expo 67, Montreal was in full swing, Lantos had mastered both French and English, and was having the time of his life on McGill's vibrant university campus, ingesting every film course available to an 18-year-old communications major in the heyday of the '60s. There was no degree in film available back then, but the MA in communications served him well when later building Alliance Communications in the '80s and '90s.
In 1974, Lantos discovered his all-time favorite film, Federico Fellini's Amarcord (about an old man looking back on his life in a 100-year-old coastal village in Italy), on the opening night of his first trip to the Cannes Film Festival with his lifelong friend and former business partner Victor Loewy. But to hear Lantos tell it, much of his destiny has been controlled by luck and a "guardian angel."
"There was no plan," Lantos says, grinning as he recounts his entry into film distribution with The Best of the New York Erotic Film Festival in the '70s. "I just wanted to have fun. I wanted to go to New York. I wanted to see films. I wanted to party."
Lantos was enthralled by the thriving counterculture of New York City, then virtually led by Andy Warhol, who was named head of the jury at the Erotic Film Festival that year. Lantos had seen an ad in The Village Voice and read that Gore Vidal was on the jury with Warhol, so he convinced the Canadian media to pay his ticket to the Big Apple. A CBC radio program and the Montreal Star each pitched in $100.
That festival would provide a blueprint of sorts for his life. Lantos agreed to buy the rights to the 10 short film winners and figured he could have them "spliced together" into one feature-length film. But first he had to cobble together a few thousand dollars for the rights.
"I had no money, so I asked Victor," Lantos recalls. "He had a job." Loewy was then the advertising manager at McGill's thriving student newspaper and Lantos was VP of the Student Society, a non-paying gig. "Victor gave me a thousand dollars," says Lantos. So did Gabor Zinner (then-president of the Student Society) and so did Moses Znaimer — a future Hall of Fame inductee himself — who always jokingly claims that he "made" Lantos.
"The thousand dollars Moses gave me for the broadcast rights was a windfall at the time," says Lantos, adding: "Yes, that's why he says he made me." Their tight friendship to this day is typical of Lantos' loyalty to colleagues and friends, and theirs to him. The erotic film festival story is also very telling of how Lantos has managed to make a career out of putting finance partners together while having a good time.
"I love working with Robert because he is a lot of fun," says director David Cronenberg, who has collaborated with Lantos on Crash, eXistenZ and Eastern Promises. "I know that that might surprise a lot of people who find him intimidating and heavy-duty, a powerful personality, but it's true nonetheless. We have a lot of laughs together, deep laughs of a kind that I don't have with too many other people.
"Robert is that rarity amongst Canadian producers — someone who combines a European sensibility with a profound understanding of Hollywood, and who can use those attributes to launch unique, difficult and intriguing productions — the kind that might not get made in either Hollywood or Europe," adds Cronenberg.
"When you work with him, you no longer find it surprising that he has been Canada's premier movie producer for decades. You might, however, still be surprised by the laughs."
The Best of the New York Erotic Film Festival was released theatrically in July 1973 (although there is no official record, as it was never considered a feature film and tracked as such), yet it made more than $1 million at the box office in Canada, "which was an absolute fortune back then," notes Lantos. So he and Loewy figured they were onto something. Eventually their fledgling distribution company, Vivafilm, was rebranded Alliance Vivafilm when they began building the Alliance empire, initially with four other partners.
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