2001 - 25 YEARS OF THE BRITISH FILM COLLECTORS CONVENTION
Digital enthusiasts outside the world of film collecting are often amazed (you might not be surprised to learn) that otherwise sane members of the human race still collect examples of the ‘out-dated’ mechanical-chemical-optical process called ‘film’. They might perhaps be even more surprised to find that some collectors travel long distances to attend conventions devoted entirely to this old medium and the that the original collectors convention, the BFCC, is still going strong after 25 years despite the advent of video and DVD. Yes, it’s been 25 years since Stephen Herbert and the late Paul van Someren threw open the doors to the very first British Film Collectors Convention at Holborn Library in London. Since then, despite flattering imitators North and South it remains in the forefront when it comes to it’s unrivalled programmes, technical innovations, attendance and advertising.
Robert Maynard who has manned the BFCC ticket desk for many years recounts the changes he’s seen take place since BFCC number 1...
My first visit to the BFCC was in its second year in 1977 at Holborn Library. There was just one room - a combined dealers room and cinema. The Bring & Buy was out in the lobby area. When a film was being screened the dealers had to stop selling as all the lights went out. Dealers being what they are, some tried to continue business in the dark! Keith Wilton and I were at the time working together editing documentaries at the BBC. During this period Keith was also editing ‘cut-downs’ for Derann and PM Films and these featured prominently at conventions. It was quite exciting being around during this period at the very heart of Super 8 productions.
For two years the conventions were held at the Rembrandt Hotel opposite the Victoria and Albert Museum. This posh venue had separate dealers halls and cinema. At this event Keith’s cut-down of ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’ for Derann Films was launched with great success. Virtually every dealer at that event had a copy running on their stand: exciting days. I remember Keith requesting a stunning 16mm Technicolor print of this film from Warner’s with the tale that he needed to view it at the BBC since he wasn’t familiar with the film!
After the death of Paul van Someren Keith became the joint organizer with Stephen Herbert and eventually when Steve moved on to other things Keith invited David Locke to co-organize. A new venue was being used - the Conway Hall in Red Lion Square which had separate screening and dealing areas. It wasn’t an ideal venue since it was difficult to blackout and rain leaked onto the dealer’s tables in the corridors. The convention was now very popular - it was even mentioned on the BBC’s Film ’86 programme. Such was the response Keith suggested that it now be held twice yearly. This idea was soon copied elsewhere. After this the BFCC moved to the Watermans Arts Centre at Brentford which had a 120 seater dedicated cinema. The limited seating prompted a fight to get in on one occasion. It was while using this venue that Keith ‘disappeared’ from work for about a week (leaving me to hold the fort!) and returned with a super 60 minute Super 8 documentary on Errol Flynn he’d knocked up. This was shown twice at the Watermans and I later transferred this to Beta for Keith.
The next venue was the 1500 seater former Northfields Odeon. This opened up more opportunities for Keith, now the sole organizer, to expand the dealer space and show films at their very best and include many shows with stereo sound (re-recorded from laser disc/hifi video) using the club’s powerful 3000 watt sound system. On one occasion Keith and John Clancy built an enormous ‘one-off’ 34ft ‘Scope screen. The modified two-bladed Elmo Xenon GS1200 coped surprisingly well with this giant picture. It was at the Top Hat Club that the lunchtime concerts of film music by the 40 strong BBC Elstree concert band were introduced. These proved to be so popular that one year a special Gala Evening Concert was held with about 18 film and television stars lending their support.
When the Top Hat Club closed to become a church Ealing Town Hall came to the rescue. This final move to date happened at a time when Super 8 had started to decline so 16mm, and more recently 35mm shows, have been introduced to keep the interest going. Even a 70mm show (courtesy of Ben Wales) has been achieved and the huge 24ft portable ‘Scope screen shows all gauges to their very best. With the introduction of DVD, Keith, aided by John Clancy, both advocates of film projection keeping up with the latest technologies have produced some stunning shows with Super 8 synchronized to Dobly Digital sound. All this goes towards making the BFCC the premiere ‘all-film’ convention in the UK. John, Keith’s technical co-organizer, explains the background to putting on the show:
If you collect films and make friends with Keith Wilton and live in London then you might find yourself ‘drafted’ in at some time or other to help out at the BFCC! But beware ‘Wilton of Ealing’ can be an exacting task master expecting nothing but the very best from his team (on the day this includes his son Mark, John Bird, Paul Garrick and Alec Beamish). Fortunately I share Keith’s love of showmanship and the conventions so I can be talked into almost anything. On the preceeding evening of the May 2001 event I found myself ‘persuaded’ to clamber over the Town Hall roof with Keith urging me on to go “Faster! Higher!” Once on the roof we had to manoeuvre various blocks of scaffolding and then climb a 30 rung vertical wooden ladder with no safety supports before entering the false roof of the main hall. We were there to cover up a grill through which light was pouring onto the screen. Since I don’t like heights I was happy to get back down spurred on by Keith telling me he was screening the sequence from ‘Vertigo’ the next day in which Kim Novak falls from the roof. Nice!
We’re occasionally asked how we manage to set everything up on such a large scale for just a single day in time for a 10am start particularly when we have the big 500 seater hall - probably the biggest ‘one-day cinema’ of any UK convention. I must admit that if we were starting from scratch there is no way you could consider such a complicated and massive installation in such a short time period. The truth is that when we were forced to move to the town hall we had to put a basic solution together to provide projection and sound. Anything we could get our hands on was utilized. Parts of the first system we assembled for our first attempt are still used but we have added and improved upon it considerably over the years.
The heart of our setup is currently supplied by Keith’s Yamaha A2 110 watt per channel amplifier. Generally we daisy chain a stereo amplifier off this to power an extra couple of speakers to supplement the six channels supplied by the A2 including a powered sub-woofer to provide that additional rumble necessary to many of our more spectacular shows.
We use over 250 metres of speaker cable from the multiple amplifiers for the multi-channel sound in the big hall which includes bi-wiring the main speakers. We do this to minimize distortion and loss of power to the speakers over such long cable runs. Despite the number of cables and the amount of connections to make it is surprising how often we get this absolutely right first time! However, if we get any of it wrong it can take an interminable time before the fault is found and if this goes on too long the pressure really starts to build. Once I was still struggling just before the first show started at 11am but I don’t think anyone noticed, except Keith of course - he misses nothing!
We also provide coloured lighting onto that enormous screen controlled from the projection area resulting in more cable runs all the way to the stage. I’m sure all will agree that what we achieve for a single day in the hope of furthering the mainly super 8 film collecting hobby is rather amazing. However, like anything that is the biggest or the best we do suffer from negative comments in certain magazines. When you reach the top I’m afraid this had to be expected!
For the future we still hope to improve but cannot promise on what may follow. It all costs quite a lot of money and with the amount invested in the shows over recent years I can promise that the BFCC does not make much of a profit. We do this out of both stupidity and the love of our hobby - but long may it continue. It is actually bloody good fun despite the occasional nashing of teeth by Mr. Wilton on those rare occasions when things go wrong!