SFU buys out Videomatica’s documentaries

By Ali Omelaniec
Photo by Geoff Lister (The Ubyssey)

In preparation for a new cinema studies major, SFU expands its film collection, keeping Videomatica’s stock out of private hands

After 28 years of housing one of the most extensive video collections in Canada, Videomatica has shut its doors. The big question among customers and film buffs after the iconic rental shop closed was, “What would happen to the collection?” It would certainly no easy task to find homes for Videomatica’s medley of DVDs, Blu-rays, and VHS tapes, which are appraised at $1.7 million.

Videomatica’s shelves housed foreign films from over 75 countries, rare classics, large selections from the Vancouver International Film Festival, and other obscure films that no major distributers carried. With such a diverse collection, Videomatica felt it would be sacrilege to sell the films for private ownership instead of sharing it with a larger community.

The owners of Videomatica, Graham Peat and Brian Bosworth, held a meeting and accepted proposals from several regional universities. Charles Eckman, the dean of library services at SFU, set to work with Gwen Bird, SFU’s former dean of collections, in formulating a proposal to acquire and steward a portion of the collection. The acquisition was fueled by the possibility of a cinema studies degree being created, slated to become available in the coming fall semester.

“We had originally made a proposal for the entire collection, which the owners really liked, but we didn’t have quite as many funds dedicated to it as UBC,” Eckman explained.

The general consensus then was that the documentary component would be the most valuable to the existing film program, as well as the potential cinema studies major. “One of the tenets of SFU’s film program is to nurture a future generation of documentary filmmakers,” said Todd Mundle, the current dean of collections.

Colin Browne, a contemporary arts professor and documentary filmmaker, says that these documentaries will be adding a lot of depth to the collection, which currently consists of mostly experimental film.

SFU shelled out $40,000 for some 2,800 documentaries, while UBC bought the rest of the collection for $200,000.

“Both universities see it as one collection, and something that needs to be preserved for long-term scholarship. We will be working with UBC to ensure reciprocal access,” said Eckman, who explained that this would likely occur through the interlibrary loan system already in place between the two institutions.

The library has given itself until 2013 to iron out the details of the lending program. However, the staff has predicted the newer copies could be available to students much sooner. Some of the Videomatica titles are already on shelves.

The collection will be available to all SFU students, though a minority may have to be placed in Special Collections due to their “fragility and rarity,” says Mundle. This will include some VHS and analogue copies.

“SFU has been building a film collection for years and this will augment an already strong collection. There is great opportunity here not only for film students and the study of the documentary but there are classroom applications across many subjects and disciplines,” adds Mundle.