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David Stone, who died aged 78, played significant roles both in radical US film-making of the 1960s and in Britain's golden age of arthouse cinemas in the 1970s. In 1974, David and his wife, Barbara, acquired the former Classic cinema, at Notting Hill Gate, West London, which they transformed and renamed the Gate Cinema. They opened their own distribution company, Cinegate, whose first acquisition was three films by the young German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder: The Merchant of Four Seasons (1971), The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972) and Fear Eats the Soul (1974). The first Fassbinder films to be shown in Britain, these brought the Gate instant critical and box-office success at its opening in September that year.

The Gate often enjoyed success with films others had passed over, including La Cage Aux Folles (1978), and Woody Allen's Annie Hall (1977) and Manhattan (1979). Derek Jarman's Sebastiane (1976), with Latin dialogue and subtitles, had queues around the block for six weeks. They brought over the young bodybuilder star of Pumping Iron (1977), Arnold Schwarzenegger, who posed with David for the cover of Time Out, and stated, accurately, that he was going to be "bigger than Stallone".

There were occasional run-ins with the censors, notably with the Japanese film In the Realm of the Senses (1976). For this, the Gate was temporarily turned into a club, and the Stones manned the box office in case of sudden police intervention.

In 1978 they opened the Gate 2 in Brunswick Square and in 1981 Gate Camden in the beautifully restored art deco Camden Odeon. Their Victorian Gothic house in Phillimore Place became a regular Saturday night at-home for international film artists, who might include Bernardo Bertolucci, Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme, Richard Eyre, Wallace Shawn, Robert Kramer, Agnès Varda or Anouk Aimée.

David was born in Brooklyn, New York. His mother, Leah, worked as a school secretary, and kept secret, even from David, that his father, Harry, was a taxi-driver. A mathematics prodigy, David won scholarships to a series of boarding schools.

By the age of 15, David was taking a pre-medical course at the University of Rochester, New York. He soon moved on to the University of Massachusetts and textile engineering, but meanwhile he had met a young literature graduate, Barbara Weintraub. Their marriage in 1957 established a lifelong and unbreachable personal and professional relationship.

In 1961 Barbara visited the Spoleto festival in Italy, and resolved to remedy its neglect of cinema. Through the brothers Jonas and Adolfas Mekas, the focal figures of New American Cinema, the Stones met and befriended many young avant-garde directors and organised a programme of their films for Spoleto. These proved a revelation to the Italian film-makers, including Luchino Visconti, Michelangelo Antonioni and Pier Paolo Pasolini, who flocked to see them.

David produced Adolfas Mekas's first film, Hallelujah the Hills (1963), and Jonas Mekas's record of the Living Theatre stage production of The Brig (1964), an unsparing picture of life shot surreptitiously in a US Marines jail. It took the prize for best documentary feature at the Venice festival.

David's strength as producer was that no one could ever say no to him. He produced three quickly-made features by Joe Sarno, a pioneer of sexploitation films and today a cult figure for academia; and Robert Kramer's Ice (1970), a key work on radical action of the period. Later he also produced Kramer's Milestones (1975) and Scenes from the Class Struggle in Portugal (1977). A more personal undertaking was his friend Jerome Hill's autobiographical Film Portrait (1973). In 2003 this film was selected for permanent preservation by the US National Film Registry.

The Stones passed from production to direction when they were invited by the Cuban film organisation ICAIC to direct a feature-length documentary, Compañeras y Compañeros (1970). David subsequently helped organise the Venceremos brigades – parties of young American enthusiasts who went on working trips to Cuba. The FBI's files on the Stones were growing. Their phones were tapped and, conscious of police surveillance, they chose to move to London in 1971.

When the Gate was sold in 1986, after leases on the other cinemas had expired, David decided to fulfil his dream of becoming restaurateur, and created the Gate Diner, a novel and successful blend of American diner and French brasserie.

In 1990 his career took another dramatic turn. He had maintained the 60s taste for varied narcotics and alcohol. Finally, he decided to get sober. His success inspired him with a mission to share his new liberation. The Diner was sold, and in 1995 David and Barbara moved to San Francisco, where David took a degree in counselling at the University of San Mateo, California. Once qualified, he worked voluntarily as a counsellor for San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury free clinics.

In 1999 the Stones returned to London, where David continued work as a counsellor, with his own private practice. Despite increasingly frequent hospitalisation, he was still seeing his patients in March this year.

He is survived by Barbara and their four children, Alexandra, Jordan, Dylan and Ethan.

• David Charles Stone, film-maker and distributor, restaurateur and counsellor, born 30 December 1932; died 30 April 2011

David Robinson 2011


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