Giving the past
a golden future

John Letham on the pleasures
of reissuing classic movies 

To screen a film publicly, you need two things: rights clearance and a print. Park Circus, founded in 2003 by Nick Varley and myself, was created to fill a frustrating gap.

We were both working in exhibition at the time, and saw how potentially excellent film seasons and programmes were being compromised by fuzzy rights and extremely poor quality (or non-existing) materials on many classic titles. 

The first film we handled was What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?; the Bette Davis/Joan Crawford almighty cat-fight. Although Warner Bros had the rights, there was no easy access to materials. We licensed the film and produced new 35mm prints, enabling it to be shown back in cinemas once more.  

Encouraged by the reaction, other titles followed, including Brief Encounter, The General and Kubrick’s Paths of Glory. All were subject to full re-issue treatment, with fresh artwork and a complete press campaign. 

From the success of the initial Granada titles, we negotiated to represent their complete back catalogue for theatrical screenings, taking the bookings from cinemas and film festivals and managing their print storage and supply.   

Since then, other studios and rights holders have agreed to work with us, giving Park Circus access to a complete library of over 10,500 films. Indeed, the company now issues over 15,000 theatrical screening licences annually, with around 40% of business from overseas.
Given that print quality is paramount to our ethos, Park Circus has been leading the way in digital cinema, with more than 50 titles already encoded, and around 15 more added each year.
The digital format allows much wider and flexible distribution patterns for classic films, and has enabled 100+ print releases that would not have been financially viable with 35mm. We have found that the most commercially successful titles are those with a strong appeal to female audiences (musicals like Grease and The Sound of Music) or those that appeal to both sexes equally (e.g. Casablanca and It’s A Wonderful Life). Male skew and special effects films are less successful.
Of course, the core cinema classics (such as Bicycle Thieves and Manhattan) just book again and again, we actively seek new libraries, territories and key individual films to work with.
In addition, we have launched a small DVD label offering a carefully curated selection of titles.
John Letham is Joint Managing Director of Park Circus