The BFI has participated in the Il Cinema Ritrovato DVD Awards for many years, and I’m sure we will continue to do so for many more. The awards are well respected within the industry and are one of the few to focus on the release of older films and television programmes. For many labels, ourselves included, they offer an unique opportunity to showcase the releases that we all spend so much time and effort producing. Both releases nominated have used almost every aspect of archival film restoration expertise as well as the latest technologies to bring the films back to the big and small screens looking as good as they did on their original release, and are prime examples of preservation and restoration working hand-in-hand with home video distribution.
To submit both Napoleon and Dissent & Disruption: Alan Clarke at the BBC was probably one of the easiest decisions we’ve ever had to make. Napoleon was a release 50 years in the making and was spearheaded by Kevin Brownlow, one of the world’s leading figures in film restoration and preservation. The ambition of both the film itself and the effort to bring it to Blu-ray was incomparable to anything previously undertaken by the BFI, but the hard work paid off with sales of almost 12,000 units since it’s release in November 2016. The release involved so many people, all of whom brought so much to it, in particular Carl Davis whose acclaimed score really brought the film to life.
As to Dissent & Disruption: Alan Clarke at the BBC, Alan Clarke is a director who’s long been revered, but whose work has until now been largely unseen and unavailable. Sam Dunn, the former Head of Video Publishing at the BFI took on the monumental challenge of releasing not only all of Clarke’s surviving BBC work but also a host of other content, such as his acclaimed Half Hour Stories, works that were missing believed lost and a wealth of supplemental material. There has never been a release of a predominately TV director’s work on this scale and I suspect there won’t be again. To include a never before seen director’s cut of 1989’s The Firm was a particular highlight. The release has won much deserved plaudits across the industry and topped a number of ‘Release of the Year’ polls at the end of 2016.
I personally think that the present situation is very positive, 2016 was one of the best years for the BFI’s label, both in regards to the quality of our releases and their market performance. The quality level of catalogue releasing is going up all the time, and I think recent deluxe re-releases by the likes of Arrow Video are testament to the fact that there is still a substantial fan base out there. There’s no question that the bar has been raised, simply releasing classic films on Blu-ray is not enough in today’s market, labels need and should be going the ‘extra mile’ to ensure that customers who are willing to buy physical releases are getting value for money.
The recent appearance of labels such as Powerhouse, currently taking the market by storm with their limited edition numbered releases, is proof that the market is still strong for companies specialising in the release of classic films. They have recognised the need to recruit the best people from both an authoring, technical and producing standpoint to ensure that their releases stand-up to the interrogation that will inevitably come from fans the world over.
There is obviously a degree of uncertainty about the future, with the continuing rise of consumption via digital platforms, and the fact that unit prices continue to fall. This is being combatted however by things like the increased in-house production of supplemental materials, well placed campaigns both in-store and online and generally a reduction in production costs across the board. I personally feel optimistic about the future and look forward to the challenges that it will bring.
I think the list of this year’s finalists and some of the titles both already released and upcoming for 2017, speak volumes about the strength of the market when it comes to specialist releases of classic film and television content. If people weren’t buying them then we wouldn’t be releasing them, and long may that continue.
Business and Operations Manager, Video Publishing
British Film Institute