A Video Connoisseur Writes…

Thursday, June 10 2010
A Video Connoisseur Writes…

Ian Gilchrist was instrumental in launching the BFI’s Connoisseur label, in the early days of the world cinema boom, and also ran Electric Pictures’ video arm and worked at the old RTM distribution operation. After a 10 year plus stint in his native Canada and the US, Gilchrist has returned to these shores. What, we casually asked him over a pint, are the differences between the UK market then and now? And what about the similarities between the UK and North America? And here’s his thoughts…

“Upon returning to London to take up residence last month, the immediate thing that struck me about the UK home entertainment industry versus its US and Canadian counterparts is how much more similar they are in 2010, at least in outward appearance, than they were in 1999 when I moved to Boston from London.

“Like the UK, the US has lost an enormous number of brick and mortar retailers, as more and more dedicated consumers there move to online purchasing through Amazon, and rental through Netflix (either posted hard copies or streaming), iTunes, and the burgeoning US kiosk business. LOVEFiLM is obviously leading the online charge here, but it appears the UK has some catching up to do in the realm of the cheap kiosk rental channel, but it will undoubtedly do so.

“With the loss of Virgin and Tower and numerous regional and lesser known national chains across North America, and the loss of Woolworths, Fopp and others here, the consumer’s choice has been drastically reduced insofar as the traditional high street entertainment software purchasing experience is concerned, unless one is primarily a collector of niche titles which can readily be found online or in non-traditional outlets, or if one is primarily a purchaser of mainstream titles that are available in supermarkets everywhere.

“All of the above are the obvious things that meet the eye immediately. What is possibly less immediately obvious is that, whether living in Leeds or Lincoln, Nebraska, there has never been a better time to be film fan/collector. More deep catalogue is available than ever before, as a walk through the DVD and Blu-ray department of the HMV on Oxford Street makes readily apparent. It’s darn hard to walk through Fopp in Covent Garden without parting with some cash, with so many excellent cheap titles and competitively priced new releases on offer.

“When we launched the BFI’s Connoisseur Video label in 1989, there was only one other art house label in existence in the UK, Palace Pictures (which went under within a year of Connoisseur’s first releases). Within less than two years, Artificial Eye, Electric Pictures and several other independents launched their own labels, and a veritable onslaught of international, cult and deep catalogue releases began, which went on to reach a fever pitch in the DVD era.  Many people I know here have all region players, so adding titles released internationally to the purchasing mix makes their potential access truly staggering.

“To give some praise to an organisation that has had its fair share of the opposite, there appears to have been a  great shift in the BFI’s thinking and approaches to film culture and distribution in the years that I was gone. Their video publishing operation seems to be thriving in its focus on British fiction and non-fiction releases, and their theatrical screenings at the BFI Southbank look like the model of what a national film institute’s flagship screening outlet in a great capital should be presenting.

“With the theatrical box office booming in the US and UK thanks to 3D and a crop of really good mainstream films (make good ‘uns,  and they will come), and the burgeoning world of online distribution looking set to take its place next to the now crested DVD (and Blu-ray?) wave,  the current state of film distribution here looks to be healthy and more like its US counterpart than ever before.”

• To contact Ian, who is currently investigating options in the home entertainment sector, email him at iangilchrist99@hotmail.com

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