A funeral service was held today for Kermit Smith, one of Italy's most highly recognised producers and distributors of independent film. Aged 48, he died on Thursday (April 12) after a brief illness.

Widely admired for championing the causes of independent and quality film with passion and a strong business acumen, Smith was the Italian distributor of such films as The Usual Suspects, Shine, Breaking Waves, Before Night Falls and Saving Grace.

Born in Chicago in 1953, Smith first worked as an impresario in New York with renowned artists like Philip Glass and Trisha Brown. In the 1980s, he became a fashion designer and launched his own label, Krunch. After establishing his name in music, theatre and fashion circles, Smith moved to Italy, co-founding with Andrea Occhipinti the film production and distribution company, Lucky Red.

In 1999, he left to create his own outfit, Key Films, which in little over a year became a market leader in the distribution of art-house films and a potent force on the international scene as both a buyer and co-producer.

As a producer, Smith developed feature films such as L'Amore Molesto and Il Teatro Di Guerra, both by the critically-acclaimed Italian director Mario Martone. Most recently, he produced Paolo Sorrentino's Un Uomo In Piu', a story set in Naples about the parallel lives of a has-been singer and a football player. At the time of his death, Smith was also involved as a co-producer on Thomas Vintenberg's It's All About Love, and Lisanne Skyler's Rules Of The Wild.

Last year, Smith announced a pact with Mediatrade, Silvio Berlusconi's television and film rights division, allowing Key Films to chase Italian rights to major feature films knowing that local television rights to any acquisitions would be guaranteed. The deal also extended to any pre-sales and co-production agreements that Key Films might be interested in entering.

"The world of art and cinema, both Italian and international, has lost one of its most active promoters," said former Italian Culture Minister Walter Veltroni. "First with Lucky Red and then Key Films, Smith gave us the opportunity to see and appreciate films that are already a part of recent cinema history."