David Stone, a producer, distributor and exhibitor best known as the head of Cinegate Film Distribution and the Gate Cinema in west London, has died at the age of 78 after a short illness.

Stone, with his wife Barbara, was legendary for introducing avant-garde directors like Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Derek Jarman to UK audiences as well as classic world cinema titles like Mephisto and Kagemusha.

He is survived by Barbara and their four children - Alexandra, Jordan, Dylan and Ethan. Alexandra is an independent producer, Jordan a film-maker, Dylan an artist and Ethan a primary school teacher.

Stone was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1932 and started his career in film in 1961 when he and Barbara launched the Spoleto Film Festival in Italy, programming independent cinema from the likes of their friend Jonas Mekas.

He then produced films with Mekas and his circle throughout the 1960s such as Adolfas Mekas’ Hallelujah The Hills (1963) and Jonas Mekas’ The Brig (1964). He also produced three films with sexploitation maestro Joseph Sarno - The Love Merchant (1966), The Swap And How They Make It (1966) and Step Out Of Your Mind (1966).

The Stones went onto join political activism film-making group Newsreel where David produced and sold titles such as Robert Kramer’s Ice, which was selected for Critics Week in Cannes 1970, and Kramer and John Douglas’ Milestones (1975) which was in Directors Fortnight. The Stones also co-directed Cuba documentary Companeras And Companeros in 1969.

They moved to London in 1971 and after several years selling the rights of the films they had produced internationally, they were approached to open a cinema. The theatre, the Gate Cinema in Notting Hill, was moved out of the Classic chain, renovated and reborn as an art cinema. The Stones launched the distribution company Cinegate at the same time to provide films for the theatre, starting out with Fassbinder’s classic Ali: Fear Eats The Soul which opened the Gate on Sept 19, 1974, and was part of a three-picture deal along with The Merchant Of Four Seasons and The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant.

Programming double bills every night as well as new acquisitions, the Gate developed a stellar reputation as one of London’s key arthouse venues. Cinegate bought classic old titles from DW Griffith and Charlie Chaplin to fill the programme and made events out of new international cinema, often bringing film-makers and actors to special screenings. Cinegate handled Jarman’s first features Sebastiane and Jubilee and was brought in by EMI to programme the Brunswick Square cinema which was redubbed the Gate Bloomsbury and split into two screens (it is now the Renoir). Cinegate also programmed the Odeon Camden which became the Gate Camden and the 50-seat house at the Mayfair Hotel.

In 1986, the Stones left the cinemas and David opened the Gate Diner Restaurant in Notting Hill. Barbara Stone remained in the film business developing and producing films. After the restaurant closed in 1990, David pursued a career in counseling, launching his own highly successful practice in 1999.