Joseph Burstyn (1900–1953) was a U.S. film distributor who specialized in the commercial release of foreign-language and American independent film productions. Born in Poland, he arrived in the U.S. in 1921 and initially worked as a public relations representative for the Yiddish theater circuit in New York City before becoming active in film distribution in the early 1940s.
His most famous releases include The Forgotten Village (1941) written by John Steinbeck, the Roberto Rosselini classics Rome, Open City (1945) and Paisà (1946), the Academy Award-nominated Little Fugitive (1953), and Fear and Desire (1953), the first feature film directed by Stanley Kubrick.
From 1951-53, Burstyn was at the center of Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson, 343 U.S. 495 (1952), which resulted in a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court which helped end film censorship in New York. It determined that certain provisions of the New York State Education Law allowing a censor to forbid the commercial showing of any non-licensed motion picture film, or revoke or deny the license of a film deemed to be "sacrilegious", was a "restraint on freedom of speech" and thereby a violation of the First Amendment; in this case, the film in question was "The Miracle", directed by Roberto Rossellini, an Italian short film that was part of the anthology film Ways of Love (1950).
- “Burstyn, Film Man, Dies on Sea Flight”, New York Times, November 30, 1953 (fee access required)
- Jowett, G. (1996). "A significant medium for the communication of ideas": The Miracle decision and the decline of motion picture censorship, 1952-1968. Movie censorship and American culture, pgs. 258-276. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press
- "Obituaries", Time Magazine, December 7, 1953
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