Friends and colleagues are reeling from the news that Mark Sarfaty, chief executive of the Independent Cinemas Association of Australia (ICAA), has died.

Sarfaty is a past head of Dendy Cinemas and a past chief executive of the Sydney Film Festival.

Most recently he has been one of the key people negotiating a visual print fee (VPF) scheme for Australia’s independent cinemas.

“Mark fought tirelessly for independent cinemas, with a vision and perseverance seldom encountered,” the ICAA board said in a statement. “He was a fierce competitor and talented, intelligent leader.

“He has inspired us greatly. We are thankful to have had his leadership during the challenges of recent times and we will continue his work in improving the future competitiveness of independent cinema in Australia.”

ICAA represents about 90% of Australia’s independent cinema owners, including Palace, Dendy, Wallis, Ace, Grand and Cineplex, but the VPF deal is designed to apply to all independents. According to ICAA, nearly 30% of Australia’s box office revenues come from outside the mainstream chains.

In recent months Sarfaty was was caught up in a court case relating to but not directly involving ICAA. In the case Digital Cinema Network (DCN) accuses it’s former chair, Michael Smith, of breaching his fiduciary duties to DCN by handing documents he shouldn’t have to the Omnilab Media Group, which is ICAA’s partner in the scheme.

He told this journalist repeatedly of his concerns that the court case was distracting attention away from the main game of ensuring independent operators could make the move to digital in an orderly, timely and cost efficient manner. Many of these operators are arthouse chains or based in regional communities.

The cause of death is not yet known. He is survived by his daughter Matilda.