Berkeley's Tom Luddy, shown with Alice Waters, was a giant in the world of modern cinema. Courtesy of BAMPFA

Earlier this year, heartfelt tributes came pouring in from some of the biggest names in the movie business for a man whose own name was all but unknown outside of it. Tom Luddy, one of the great unsung heroes of modern cinema, died on Feb. 13 at the age of 79. His death was mourned by the likes of Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Werner Herzog and Paul Schrader — all of whom spoke of his indelible influence, both on their own careers and on the wider world of movies. The leading newspapers of France, Britain and the United States all published obituaries, with The New York Times declaring him “cinema’s most fervent believer, as well as its main officiant.”

“Ambassador of Cinema: Tom Luddy’s Lasting Influence at BAMPFA.” June 1-July 15. BAMPFA, 2155 Center St.

But to his neighbors in Berkeley, where he resided for most of his adult life, he was just Tom: an unassuming presence in the city’s arts scene, a quirky local character in a town with more than its share of them. Regulars who spotted him dining at Chez Panisse probably didn’t realize that he helped inspire the restaurant’s name, by introducing founder Alice Waters to the films of Marcel Pagnol.  Few may have realized the sheer number of films that bore Luddy’s fingerprints, given his prolific career as a producer, programmer and creative consultant. Some films in Berkeley may also carry his literal fingerprints, since, as the former director of the Pacific Film Archive during its formative years, he personally acquired hundreds of films for BAMPFA’s world-renowned collection.

Starting June 1, many of those films will screen in a six-week series, Ambassador of Cinema: Tom Luddy’s Lasting Influence at BAMPFA. Conceived after Luddy’s death, the series celebrates his remarkable six-decade run as one of the most influential figures in the global film community. His multi-hyphenate career included leadership roles at BAMPFA, American Zoetrope, SFFILM and the Telluride Film Festival. The latter he co-founded in 1974 and built into one of the film world’s most important annual events. For six weeks, Luddy’s story will be retold at BAMPFA, both onscreen — with 23 programs of films that he championed as a producer, curator and global tastemaker — and onstage, with a slate of distinguished guests who will pay tribute to his legacy.

Tom Luddy, at right, with Jean-Luc Godard, center, in Berkeley. Courtesy of BAMPFA

No account of Luddy’s resumé can fully capture his unofficial influence on the dozens of film luminaries who came into his orbit, leading The New York Times to characterize him in a 1984 profile as “a human switchboard.” As the inaugural director of programming and later director of the Pacific Film Archive, Luddy cultivated a bursting Rolodex of global film contacts, which he used to bring some of the world’s most renowned directors to Berkeley. Early guests included Chantal Akerman, Stan Brakhage, Jean Eustache, Milos Forman, Nicholas Ray, Martin Scorsese, Larissa Shepitko and Werner Herzog, a leader of the New German Cinema movement and one of Luddy’s closest friends. Herzog will return to Berkeley on June 4 to introduce a screening of his film Stroszek (1977), which features contributions by BAMPFA regulars Les Blank and Errol Morris. It is one of countless films in which Luddy served as an artistic matchmaker between previously unacquainted filmmakers. He was occasionally a more conventional matchmaker — he introduced Herzog to his future wife.

As the co-director at the Telluride Film Festival for most of its 50-year history, Luddy transformed the festival into an unmissable destination on the international film circuit, attracting a “who’s who” of global arthouse celebrities to the tiny Colorado mining town each year. Luddy’s successor at Telluride, Julie Huntsinger, will kick off the BAMPFA series on June 1 by co-introducing a screening of F. W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927). One of Luddy’s personal favorites, the film inspired him to found the F. W. Murnau Film Society as a UC Berkeley undergraduate. BAMPFA will host the Oscar-nominated director Philip Kaufman a week later. A close friend of Luddy, Kaufman cast him as a malevolent “pod person” in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978).

Tom Luddy, right, in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Courtesy of BAMPFA

While much of Luddy’s influence was exerted through informal relationships, he did accumulate a tidy roster of screen credits over the course of his eventful career, particularly during his tenure at Francis Ford Coppola’s company, American Zoetrope. Aside from his cameo as an alien invader in Body Snatchers, Luddy mostly worked offscreen as a producer and studio executive, helping to secure the financing for such auteur-driven passion projects as Paul Schrader’s Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985), Jean-Luc Godard’s King Lear (1987), Barbet Schroeder’s Barfly (1987) and Agnieszka Holland’s The Secret Garden (1993). King Lear and The Secret Garden will screen in the BAMPFA series this summer.

Berkeley’s own Alice Waters will also appear in person at BAMPFA to introduce a screening of The Baker’s Wife (1938). Luddy’s onetime sweetheart and longtime friend, Waters played a pivotal role in one of the most memorable episodes of his early career, one that vividly illustrates Luddy’s signature skill as a convener of artistic talent. When Luddy introduced Werner Herzog to Errol Morris in the 1970s, the impishly inclined director made a bet that if Morris ever finished his long-gestating first feature, Herzog would eat his own shoe. In 1978, Morris completed production on Gates of Heaven — so the following year, Herzog held up his end of the wager. Sitting down in front of a live audience at the UC Theatre, he dined on a leather boot that had been meticulously slow-cooked by Waters, and served with great solemnity by Luddy himself.

The stunt was captured on camera by the group’s mutual friend Les Blank, who later turned the footage into an acclaimed short film — appropriately titled Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (1980). That film screens at BAMPFA on June 17.