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Brian Bosworth, co-owner of Videomatica, poses for a photograph at the store in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday May 6, 2011. (Darryl Dyck For The Globe and Mail/Darryl Dyck For The Globe and Mail)
Brian Bosworth, co-owner of Videomatica, poses for a photograph at the store in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday May 6, 2011. (Darryl Dyck For The Globe and Mail/Darryl Dyck For The Globe and Mail)

Education

Universities to get $1.7-million Videomatica film collection Add to ...

Cue the applause: the owners of Vancouver’s beloved and now defunct video rental institution Videomatica have ensured that their enormous and historically important collection will remain intact. The $1.7-million collection of classic, Canadian, foreign, rare, and other films will be housed and preserved by the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University, in a donation/purchase deal brokered by one of the city’s leading philanthropists.

“The fact that this collection has been retained intact is a great victory for all of us,” said Jerry Wasserman, who heads UBC’s department of theatre and film.

But along the way to the happy ending, there were twists and turns in the negotiations worthy of a Hollywood script.

The news hit Vancouver film buffs hard last spring: Videomatica would be closing, leaving in doubt the future of its more than 35,000 film titles. Much hand-wringing ensued.

Almost immediately, local philanthropist Yosef Wosk got involved. By chance, he had reached out to Videomatica owners Graham Peat and Brian Bosworth; he was building a home theatre in his basement, and was hoping to buy the Kitsilano store’s Alfred Hitchcock cut-out. The owners told him they were closing the store and hoping to preserve the collection they’d accumulated over three decades. Mr. Wosk pledged his help right away, saying he would buy it himself if he had to. He put the figure of $100,000 on the table.

“That was just based on their very early guestimate, which was way low,” Mr. Wosk said on Monday. “But it gave them a base for negotiations with others.”

In any case, the preference was that the collection go to an institution, rather than “liquidating it or sending it off in 10,000 directions,” Mr. Wosk said.

First stop was the Vancouver Public Library. The library looked into it, Mr. Wosk said, but ultimately felt some of Videomatica’s titles would be inappropriate. There was also the matter of finding the money to buy the collection - and the space to store it.

“It was disappointing,” Mr. Wosk said, “because Videomatica thought for sure the library would be taking it.”

Next, they went the academic route, meeting with representatives of UBC, SFU, Capilano University and the Vancouver International Film Festival. The Emily Carr University of Art + Design expressed interest, but only if the collection was gifted, Mr. Wosk said.

Eventually, it came down to UBC and SFU. Early last summer, each submitted a proposal for the entire collection. Negotiations went back and forth. At one point it looked like UBC would get the whole thing with SFU having access to the collection through inter-library loans.

Then in the fall, SFU proposed that it take the documentaries – about 2,800 films – for its School for the Contemporary Arts at Woodward’s, where they’re establishing a new cinema studies program.

“This is a key area of interest to them, documentaries,” said Charles Eckman, SFU’s dean of library services.

Throughout the negotiations, the monetary value of the collection remained a big question. So Mr. Wosk donated $10,000 to UBC to finance professional appraisals. At $1.7-million, the collection turned out to be worth far more than Mr. Peat’s earlier estimate of $350,00 to $850,000.

Neither institution had that kind of money. Videomatica’s owners would be donating the bulk of the collection.

No deal was in place when the truck pulled up to the West 4th Avenue store in early November and loaded about six battered filing cabinets filled with thousands of DVDs (the cases are kept separately).

They arrived at UBC more than a month before the deal was finalized in mid-December.

In the end, UBC agreed to pay $200,000 and SFU $40,000. Videomatica’s owners will receive the difference in value in the form of a tax receipt.

The work is hardly over. Librarians at both universities must now catalogue the films – which at UBC could take two years.

“They’re calling it a triage,” Mr. Wasserman said.

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