British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Using, losing, resurrecting ‘A Different World’

… all I had to do, I thought, was to check the archive clearances, locate the master tapes, press a button and roll out the DVDs. It wasn’t like that.

I imagined a painless exercise. I was the copyright owner of the films and had retained the non-theatrical rights. All I had to do, I thought, was to check the archive clearances, locate the master tapes, press a button and roll out the DVDs. It wasn’t like that. Limited companies had come and gone, contracts were missing, the surviving tapes were of poor quality, and my estimate of the license renewal costs looked woefully inadequate. How incompetent I felt without a production manager to guide me through the post-production maze. How silly not to appreciate the tangles involved in making subtitles in three languages, creating DVD chapters, finding a distributor, and writing a booklet to accompany every disc.

Month after month I pressed on and slowly things took shape. Less than two minutes of archive film required new licenses. The licensing costs alone for making a maximum of 5,000 DVDs – cleared internationally for home and educational use – was a hefty £4,678. Initial quotes were cheaper but excluded educational rights; I had no option and paid up. Given the disappointing picture quality of the ‘master’ tapes, I had the entire film re-mastered and the images took on a new life.


I had used up half the grant money when the twenty-five year old contracts I’d signed turned up and revealed that while I was the holder of the copyright and non-theatrical licenses, any exploitation of those rights had first to be agreed with the original broadcasters. I was in a spin. I hadn’t cleared the arrangements with broadcasters in advance – supposing they didn’t agree? In my plans, there would be an initial run of 1,000 DVDs. I wasn’t engaged in a commercial operation, and any receipts from sales, other than distribution fees, would be annually donated to Holocaust educational charities. I nervously approached Channel 4, WNET and NDR and explained the situation. I offered to provide annual financial and distribution reports and on that basis the DVD release went ahead.

In 1985, as part of a pilot programme for the original series, I had filmed an interview with Jan Karski, the Polish Roman Catholic courier who brought back reports from Nazi-occupied Poland to the West. The interview was so powerful and revealing it became a separate film, Messenger from Poland, and was transmitted as a spin-off programme. Last year President Obama posthumously awarded Jan Karski America’s highest civilian honour, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It has made Karski a more widely known hero to Roman Catholics and Jews alike. 2014 is the one hundredth anniversary of his birth, in Poland it will be celebrated as Karski Year 2014. So it’s fitting that Messenger from Poland is the second feature on the DVD and is already being used at universities in America and Poland.

Israel Gutman and Jan Karski, like the eleven other interviewees, and the images of vibrant Jewish life on the DVD are worth spending time with.

Martin Smith

A Different World & Messenger from Poland
2013. GB. DVD. Panamint Cinema. 92 minutes. £14.99.

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