Obituary

Kitty Cooper obituary

For more than 40 years my mother, Kitty Cooper, who has died aged 90, was a leading figure at Contemporary Films, a London-based distribution company established by her husband, Charles, in 1951. Kitty worked there from 1964 until her retirement in 2008, purchasing films and organising their release, dealing with international sales and covering the festival circuit.

The company, of which she was a director, became known for releasing international arthouse works and political documentaries, as well as for supporting the efforts of promising young film-makers.

Nick Broomfield, whose early documentaries were distributed by Contemporary, was among those who appreciated Kitty and Charles’s commitment to promoting new talent. “I was just starting out, and only later learned just how different and beautiful they were,” he said.

From the mid-1960s Kitty became immersed in the heady swirl of radical cultural politics, Soho life and international cinema, buying films by the likes of Werner Herzog, Jane Campion, Satyajit Ray, Andrei Tarkovsky and showing them at the West End Academy Cinema, as well as at Contemporary’s own Paris Pullman and Phoenix Cinemas (in East Finchley and Oxford).

Kitty was born in Berlin into a working-class Jewish family, and spent her early childhood in Nazi Germany. At the age of six, shortly before the second world war, she escaped to Britain with her mother, Betty (nee Davidsohn), a dressmaker. Her father, Walter Fürstenberg, a welder, had come to the UK a few months earlier via the Kitchener Camp initiative. Other family members, including Kitty’s grandmother, were killed in the Holocaust.

After the second world war, the family settled in north London, changing their name to Wixon, and Kitty attended Laura Place school (now Clapton girls’ academy). In the late 1950s she took a philosophy evening class at the City Lit adult education college in central London, and there met Charles, a fellow student.

He was 22 years her senior, had recently been widowed and had three children. The early years of their relationship were volatile, but once they settled (and as Kitty liked to say, “Charles committed”) their partnership became a harmonious and loving one – at home and at work.

Together, Kitty and Charles gave their time and films to London’s leftwing circles. Saturday evenings saw people gathering at our home for benefit screenings to raise money for international causes. Film-makers would come to stay – sometimes for months at a time. Kitty and Charles had a relaxed and inclusive approach to their home, and their parenting style was liberal and permissive.

In retirement she volunteered for CND, the Wiener Library and the Tate gallery in London, while developing her skills in portrait photography and art history, and nurturing an enduring love of literature.

Charles died in 2001. She is survived by her children, Mick and me, her stepchildren, Sue, Adi and Florence, 11 grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and her sister, Sandra.

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