The Close-Up Video Library

139 Brick Lane, London E1

Close-Up website

With its friendly, modest style, heartfelt passion for film and refreshing lack of interest in profit, the Close-Up Video Library is a wonderful place. Founded by Damien Sanville three years ago, ‘Close-Up is a private company only on paper’. ‘Unlike other film outlets in London’, he explains, ‘it is run like a public service – a film library – and the money we make goes straight into new acquisitions’.

In addition to its extensive collection of the best, worst and weirdest in everything from early cinema and classics to experimental and video art, Close-Up also devotes part of its impressive shelf space to the works of independent filmmakers that have not been picked up or were never made for wider distribution. ‘So far, we’ve managed to get about 11,000 titles together’, says Sanville. ‘We are not comparable to the BFI or the Lux, in terms of special collections, archive holdings or electronic resources, but we have got the largest collection of films in the UK on DVD and video, including lots of titles – especially in the experimental section – that are not available at any other national film archive or arts institution at present.’

What’s more, at Close-Up all these films can be rented by anyone, an ease of access that would be unthinkable in other arts institutions with a collection of such magnitude and rarity. ‘When I first started Close-Up, it was only to make enough money to be able to carry on making my own films’, says Sanville. ‘But very soon after we acquired the first films, especially in the arts and experimental section, we started to think that this could become a sort of reference for students, filmmakers, anyone with a cultural interest.’ With a growing database of 7000 users, it is only a matter of time before Close-Up acquires the reputation it deserves as a continuously expanding archive of internationally renowned cinema. Together with Close-Up Manager Karin Harfmann, Sanville has a great vision for the future of the library: ‘We hope that we will not only be able to buy more great films as they come out, but also that very soon we can make the library free to all our members.’

Essentially, the plan is to turn the current Close-Up rental plan into a membership fee that costs no more than £40 per year. ‘Our members would then benefit not only from access to the entire film collection, but also from free entry to all the public screenings and special events organised by Close-Up’, Sanville explains. None of this is going to be easy of course, especially with no financial backing at hand. As a first step, Close-Up launched its own distribution arm in 2008 alongside a new online retail system, which means that anyone can support the film library by purchasing a DVD, book or magazine though the website. ‘Things are starting to kick in slowly’, says Sanville, ‘and we’ll try to get some sponsorship money from the Film Council too’.

Close-Up is an astonishing achievement as it is, but one that demands staggering levels of commitment from Sanville and his team. So it’s great to hear that Sanville has managed to keep his enthusiasm about the library: ‘To tell you the truth, sometimes I’d much rather just work in a place like this, rather than own it, and feel completely free. But then I pick up some obscure shorts or a rare masterpiece from our collection and I know exactly why I am doing this, I love it!’

Pamela Jahn