Filmmaker Michele Civetta Remembers Kevin Turen, His Friend and Indie Maverick

Michele Civetta is the director of feature films “Agony” and “The Gateway” and music videos for Lou Reed, Sean Lennon, and Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros.

We came from a generation…

With aspirations of what cinema is as an art form, what it can do to provoke change, illuminate dreams of individual stories, and propel cultural narratives. Inspired by the American New Wave of Cinema, living under the banner of the Cahiers du Cinema auteur theory, a world where writers, directors, and producers created stories in the emerging screen revolution colliding between world cinema and the 90s independent film boom. Looking inside the cinematic kaleidoscope, imagining how to penetrate the dream factory, Kevin Turen was born to be a maverick as he surmounted this unpaved road for our generation of friends and filmmaking talent. As New York City Kids, we crossed the threshold into our professional years. Kevin helped out on my first student films at NYU and I filmed his early directing work. A group of hungry cineastes emerged among us and Kevin quickly filled his encyclopedia-like brain under the tutelage of film scholars like Andrew Sarris while studying at Columbia University.

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Out of school, Kevin and I optioned the sci-fi masterpiece Ryu Murakami’s “Coin Locker Babies” with the help of family and friends, fighting tooth ‘n nail to get it made over a decade between Hollywood, Japan, and France: a first foray into the business. We moved to LA at the same time, all the while Kevin was a whirlwind of savantish brilliance, absorbing movies and books voraciously as he began forging a Swiftian path forward. We rented a house with friends and then lived in the same building for a few years as Kevin moved in with the love of his life and soon to be wife Evelina. Kevin’s nature allowed family, friends and work to coalesce effortlessly and ostensibly created a salon-like culture for silver screen dream seekers.

Taking in movies at Calendar houses, traveling to UC Santa Cruz to watch bootleg copies of new Takashi Miike films before they were unearthed for American audiences, It was always an array of new obsessions and the movies were infectious and forging an imprint on the projects and talent Kevin began to develop. His influences and obsessions were perennial and he cultivated an aesthetic that allowed him to speak a truly international film language, whether classic Hollywood, underground fare from grindhouse to obscure comedies, Asian cinema, or emerging European works. The keen wit and irony of his email address namesake Guy Grand, a nod to Terry Southern’s Magic Christian was indicative of the madcap and powerful aspirations he held, posturing like a studio mogul of the golden era with the keys to a Willy Wonkaesque dream factory.

With a keen, irreverent, and charismatic ability to build alliances and encourage talent, Kevin became head of production at First Look Studios under Henry Winterstern where he championed Larry Clark’s “Wassup Rockers,” Greg Araki’s “Smiley Face” and several other original independent films in the 2000s, earning his first producing credits. It became quickly apparent Kevin had the Midas touch, an instinct for talent, material, and the business acuity to navigate the thin divide of the art and commerce highway, all the while protecting the hearts and minds of actors, writers, and directors alike. The list of folks who passed through Kevin’s sphere was truly endless as people became a myriad chess game of new passionate talents Kevin looked to cultivate projects with while conjuring the grandiosity and infectious showmanship of a PT Barnum with optics for recognizing mythology.

Like a statesman harnessing cherished relationships between New York’s financial elite, night life impresarios, financiers, and the nexus of Hollywood agents and talent, he seemed to unlock his own secret code to fuse these seemingly incompatible worlds into a vision where creativity could blossom, and results would end up on the screen. There was truly no separation between family, friends and cinema with Kevin, the way one imagines Cassavetes and his troupe of talent forging forward. To work with Kevin was to be part of his intimate tribe, as he proved while championing our friend Nick Jarecki with his brilliant breakout directorial debut “Arbitrage.” Always ripe to discover and champion new discoveries, I remember Kevin mentioning the first Ti West film he watched around 2009 and saying this is the guy to watch in the Horror space.

With prophetic tenacity, years later Kevin and A24 helped to bring West’s talent to greater audiences with the success of the “X” horror franchise. Kevin’s enthusiasm was infectious, whether talking up friends’ new films, like what Richard Kelly was working on next with Ted Hamm; what he had slated to develop with Manu Gargi, the first film Matt Ross was making, “Frank & Lola”; Brady Corbet’s spectacular directing debut, “The Childhood of a Leader”; or the latest movie our friend Dana O’Keefe discovered to represent for sales at Cinetic Media, “Napoleon Dynamite.”

He championed his friends’ accomplishments like they were his own and I remember so well his elation when our friend Jay Penske bought Variety, a first step on assembling a nearly unprecedented digital media empire. This passion continued with rapture forward to produce and champion films that resonated among audiences and critics alike from J.C. Chandor’s “All is Lost,” to Nate Parker’s “Birth of a Nation,” Ramin Bahrani’s “99 Homes,” Sam Levinson’s “Assassination Nation” and Tom Gormican’s “That Awkward Moment” and “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.

We came from a generation…

Before cinema mutated into the modern streaming world. Kevin rode this new wave into the emerging landscape to reach his grandest heights in the seminal HBO teen bildungsroman “Euphoria.” Challenging viewers with subversive slings and arrows of what is possible and marketable when you tap into the zeitgeist. This success allowed Kevin to produce a TV remake of Olivier Assayas’s beloved 90’s cinema classic “Irma Vep,” “Malcolm and Marie,” and “The Idol.” Always on the quest for new horizons and new friends to enhance the magic world he inhabited, Kevin had finally surmounted the top of the industry and in a meteoric two decades. The imprint is gigantic. The diversity of the slate of projects he was developing is indicative of a maverick producer of any era, with the iconic vision he set out to achieve while daydreaming his way into this profession at university.

We come from a generation…

That is reeling at the loss of a titan of our cultural legacy. A community of artists, dear friends, and Kevin’s beautiful and generous family will mourn and carry inside as DNA for generations to come, portraying the true triumphs of possibility in the human spirit and what a beacon of light art offers. Kevin’s work embodies humanity across a blitzkrieg of postmodern genres: Skate culture, hip hop, punk, cyberspace, celebrity satires, teen angst, historical reexaminations of America’s history of slavery and how poverty is effaced in an economic crisis. His short but luminous path is a testament of and fulfillment of the dreams he set out to achieve when embarking on the journey. Credits aren’t enough, thank you for the invisible landscape forward you helped to make visible during your bright days. The future will be illuminated because of how big you dreamed. When a hero returns from slaying dragons his legend can be laid to rest. You will be forever missed and loved!

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