Longtime local film critic Jack Garner has died. The Democrat & Chronicle, where Garner worked for decades, says he died Sunday at the age of 75.
Garner’s wife, Bonnie, was quoted in the D&C saying they would have celebrated their 50th anniversary next month and they were planning to take international trips after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this year, Garner was elected an Honorary Trustee of WXXI and The Little Theatre (which is operated by WXXI).
“There has been no bigger champion for the The Little Theatre than Jack Garner. As the respected voice of film and the arts in Rochester for more than 40 years, we are thrilled to have Jack as our newest Honorary Trustee,” said WXXI President Norm Silverstein when Garner was named to that post.
On Sunday, Silverstein said, "Jack Garner loved the city and he loved The Little Theatre. He was probably our biggest fan, and getting him on board as one of our Honorary Trustees, it actually elevated the entire station. To lose him, it’s a shock, totally a shock, and it leaves a hole in my heart, I can tell you that.”
Garner and his wife Bonnie were informed recently that they would be made lifetime members of The Little, something WXXI & The Little only designate in very special circumstances. The organization felt that with what Garner has done for The Little and for film in the Rochester community it was an appropriate honor.
Garner was a fixture at The Little, often watching films and taking part in some of the panel discussions that took place after the films.
Scott Pukos, public relations coordinator at The Little, said he was “devastated” to hear of Garner’s death, and enjoyed working him and seeing Garner and his wife attend films and events at the theater. Pukos said he learned a lot just listening to Garner in those panel discussions.
“He would always find a story to relate, or something that maybe I would miss, and that’s the critic’s eye I guess,” Pukos said.
WXXI Arts & Life editor Jeff Spevak worked with Garner for years at the D&C.
“Social media has populated the landscape these days with these instant, disposable media stars,and Jack came out of that era where you really earned it, and he really wore that well,” Spevak said.
Spevak noted that Garner had a lot of stories about many people in the film industry, but his interests were bigger than that, including basketball (Garner was 6’9”), and jazz music. Spevak noted that Garner was also part of the (former) Rochester Times-Union team that won a Pulitzer Prize on the Attica riots.
“Can’t believe he’s gone…we’re going to miss him,” Spevak said.
Garner was also a member of the Board of Trustees of the George Eastman Museum, and in 2007 he was awarded the George Eastman Medal of Honor for his service to the museum and to the community.
Museum Director Bruce Barnes said that Garner, "had, a truly deep love of it from early cinema through the most recent blockbusters, which was one of the wonderful things about Jack, was that he was both enormously sophisticated, but he was also, if you would, a cinematic gourmand, he loved a whole range of different things." Barnes said that Garner was also passionate about preserving film and preserving oral histories of people who were important in film, and that included conversations Garner had with silent film star Louise Brooks who lived in Rochester for many years.
Barnes said that Garner was also a longtime advocate for the Dryden Theatre at the Eastman Museum.
Both the museum and The Little Theatre expect to hold tributes to Jack Garner at some point in the future.
This is video from an interview that Jack Garner did with WXXI President Norm Silverstein for the program, Norm & Company in 2017: