Magazine article Screen International

Artificial Eye Co-Founder Pamela Engel Dies Aged 82

Magazine article Screen International

Artificial Eye Co-Founder Pamela Engel Dies Aged 82

Article excerpt

Engel also co-founded UK distributor New Wave Films.

Art-house “trailblazer” Pamela Engel, known for co-founding distributor Artificial Eye and programming London cinemas including the Lumiere, Chelsea Cinema, Camden Plaza and the Renoir, has died aged 82.

A huge figure in the UK’s independent film business, Engel’s death has sparked messages of praise across the distribution and exhibition sectors.

Born Pamela Balfry in 1934, the UK executive started out in the late 1950s as a secretary for then Sight and Sound editor Penelope Houston.

She would go on to work as an assistant to Richard Roud at the London and New York Film Festivals before joining Derek Hill’s art-house venue Essential Cinema in the late 1960s.


Balfry and first husband Andi Engel established distributor Artificial Eye in 1976, thus “beginning an odyssey of distribution and exhibition unlikely ever to be surpassed,” in the words of former London Film Festival director Sheila Whitaker.

Despite separating from Andi shortly after Artificial Eye was founded, the duo remained business partners and Pamela served as the company’s first managing director.

Over a 30-year period, the duo and its dedicated staff - including Engel’s second husband Robert Beeson, who also worked at the company for 30 years and became its long-term MD - revolutionised the UK cinema landscape by pioneering the works of directors including Krzysztof Kieslowski, Eric Rohmer, Andrei Tarkovsky, Alain Resnais, Robert Bresson, Bela Tarr, Marguerite Duras, Ousmane Sembene and Abderrahmane Sissako.

Other filmmakers whose work the company picked up include Olivier Assayas, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Arnaud Desplechin, Cedric Kahn, Robert Guediguian and Patrice Chéreau, with Kevin Smith’s Clerks (1994) and Todd Solondz’s Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995) also in the mix.

Aside from the scores of festival winners, notable box office successes included The Taviani Brothers’ Padre Padrone (1977), Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo (1982), Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine (1993) - the ‘first big Chinese film in Britain’ - Paolo Sorrentino’s The Consequences of Love (2004), Jacques Audiard’s The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2005), and Michael Haneke’s Hidden, which took more than £1.5m at the box office.

The company’s biggest theatrical success was Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s Cyrano de Bergerac (1990), which netted £2.5m, making it the most successful foreign-language film ever in the UK at the time and still among the best-ever performers. …

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