Second Run, First class

By Kieron Corless

love-karoly-makk.jpgLove, 1971

A passionate new DVD label is trawling the archives with striking results

The rapidly evolving DVD market is transforming the landscape of cinephilia. Films you’d thought you’d never see again, films you’d only heard of but never had the chance to see – these and many others are being released by specialist niche companies such as London-based Second Run, which launched in August 2005. Exciting times. Despite its relative infancy Second Run has already established itself as a treasure-trove for cinephiles, retrieving world cinema’s lost masterpieces with a particular emphasis on Eastern Europe. Here, Second Run’s founder and managing director Mehelli Modi explores the vision behind his company.

Kieron Corless: What was the initial impetus for starting Second Run?

Mehelli Modi: The arrival of DVD was important for me and everyone who cared for films. Even more important was the ability to make DVD players multi-region, at that time mainly through searching for a hack on the internet. It meant that at a stroke you could suddenly play any DVD from any country, and the only way to buy those DVDs was over the internet. It meant that a community of people really interested in films suddenly sprang up on the internet, discussing films, their availability and quality. I’d always loved films and I was one of them. And in searching for the films I wanted, I soon got to a list of over 500 which I’d seen, loved and wanted, but which weren’t available anywhere. People on the internet forums were talking about them also, but these films seemed too far below the sightlines of the majors and even larger independent labels. They weren’t going to sell in their thousands and they needed, because they’re never seen nowadays, a lot of work to make people aware of their qualities. I decided then to stop everything else I was doing and see if there was a way to create a niche business, so that these important films, which I’d seen over the years and loved, could be allowed to breathe again.

cremator-juraj-herz.jpgThe Cremator, 1969

KC: What was your original focus?

MM: When I started the company the idea was to cover world cinema. I launched with ten films, including documentaries and covering a lot of countries, so it didn’t look like we were just one genre and it would never be pigeonholed. But then I found that people were starting to discover Eastern European cinema; there were seminars, there were all kind of things going on underground. When I realized that a lot of the films made in Eastern Europe seemed to just disappear, and that even the archives in those countries didn’t always know which films they had, the emphasis changed. The preservation aspect became important as well. In my mind if we didn’t release some of these films soon, they may not exist anymore. For example, Mother Joan of the Angels, which is a stunning Polish film – by the time we tracked it down, the condition was awful. We spent a great deal of time trying to restore it. I believe that if we hadn’t touched it for another few years, it probably wouldn’t exist anymore. And Jerzy Kawalerowicz is a major filmmaker. Now we’ve got it in the digital medium, so it survives.

KC: What was the response to your ten film launch?

MM: The problem with starting something like this was that I had no idea whether anyone would care for it in the same way I did, so I couldn’t make any plans until there was some feedback. The response though has been really encouraging, especially from the filmmakers themselves. The response from the trade really surprised me too. The films were available in every shop. Never in big quantities, but the fact they would display them and take them meant that they understood what we were trying to do. And none of this would work without writers and critics, in print and on the internet. It was such an immediate connection; suddenly people were talking about Second Run with love. It’s not easy to spread the word and it would be impossible without the internet, which I hope we’ve used creatively to connect. The responses from there have been very genuine. For instance, places like the Criterion Forum, which is very important in the serious DVD world, has actually given Second Run its own section. Everyone’s been so generous.

another-way-karoly-makk-janos-xantus.jpgAnother Way, 1982

KC: What’s the main lesson you’ve learnt?

MM: The important thing is it’s got to be done properly. The transfers and subtitles have to be done really well. We need to provide extras to contextualize the film. I don’t think we need to spend lots of money but we need to do things which are aesthetically correct. That you can’t pass down to someone else, you’ve got to get it together yourself. And I should also say that none of this would be possible without the help and support of several key people- in particular Andy, our studio IBF, and Paula.

KC: How do you see Second Run developing from here on?

MM: We’ve just done our first 21st century film (Blissfully Yours), because Apichatpong Weerasethakul is such a wonderful filmmaker and the film is not going to get released theatrically. Other than that, every film we put out is one I’ve seen and want to put out. After a while it’s not about the period, it’s about the film – it’s always down to the film.


Kieron Corless is Deputy Editor of Sight and Sound.