Jane Balfour’s next move

On June 6, 2000, Jane Balfour began liquidating her 18-year-old distribution company, Jane Balfour Films, and regretfully wiped her hands of the documentary industry. One year later, she's busy touring festivals and markets as a consultant, and is handling one of the most talked about docs of the year. But don't call it a comeback.
May 31, 2001

Jane Balfour wants to make it clear that she’s not trying to reestablish herself as a champion of independent filmmakers, that Jane Balfour Films is a thing of the past. ‘No, never again,’ she says. ‘I ran and built Jane Balfour Films for 18 years. Seeing it go was quite devastating… What’s important to me now is that I still have something to offer. But, what I absolutely do not want to do, in any way, is run a company. I’m happy looking after a film for a filmmaker, but I don’t want all the infrastructure and staff.’

Adjusting to a one-man operation isn’t easy. Dealing with computer glitches, book keeping and contracts can be mind-numbing, time-sucking tasks, but Balfour has managed to do all of this as well as acquire a handsome collection of films. Explains Balfour, ‘One of the things I liked most was looking after a filmmaker’s work in an ongoing way. That was very important. Interestingly enough, the people who gave me my fist film back in 1982 were Donn Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus. It was because of them and their support that I started and built [Jane Balfour Films]. They were the ones who again wouldn’t let me stop.’

Despite the death of Jane Balfour Films, the veteran filmmakers asked Balfour to continue representing their library. Balfour accepted and is handling the collection as Jane Balfour Services (Balfour’s current collection is not an extension of her previous library. When Jane Balfour Films went into liquidation, all unsold rights reverted back to the filmmakers). Among the films she’s distributing for the doc duo are Don’t Look Back (1967), Town Bloody Hall (1979), and The War Room (1993), as well as (2001) outside North America. Balfour is also handling films for Alan Berliner, including Intimate Stranger (1992), Nobody’s Business (1996), and The Sweetest Sound (2001); rights outside the U.S. for James Ronald Whitney’s Just Melvin (2001); and Marc Singer’s Dark Days (2000), among others.

Twelve months ago, Balfour’s present state of affairs seemed unlikely. ‘At one stage I thought that was the end, that I wouldn’t be involved in the business,’ she recalls. ‘I went to MIPCOM in October on the basis that if I didn’t face the crowds, I never would. That went really well. I was nerve racked when I went, because when something like this happens it really knocks your confidence. But, people were incredibly nice. Everybody in the industry was very friendly and supportive – they made me feel like I could still be involved in the business.’ Balfour went to Cannes as a consultant with The Marketplace, an umbrella stand for European independents. Since then, she has been involved with the Sheffield International Documentary Festival, MIPTV and, most recently, Hot Docs in Toronto, Canada.

The past year has also afforded Balfour a healthy perspective on past events: ‘I think we played our role at the time that role was there. Ideally, we should have changed and adapted to operate in today’s world. But, then I needed to be a businessman who knew when to make the changes, and that’s not how I started…It would have been nice to see [Jane Balfour Films] go to someone who could have taken on the responsibility, but it wouldn’t have been the same if I had sold out to a big company. It would have changed it radically. That’s what one tries to do to save it, but it wouldn’t have saved it.’

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.