Janus Films, the Face of Art and Foreign Film

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Janus Films is the pre-eminent distributor of classic foreign films in the United States. Fifty years ago, its founders took a chance on distributing a little-known director named Federico Fellini and ushered in the golden age of the art-house cinema.

Reporter Andrea Shea explores the history and influence of Janus Films from where it was born - the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Mass.

Janus won its first Academy Award for Ingmar Bergman's Virgin Spring', in 1960. But Hollywood studios soon wooed Bergman, Fellini, and Francois Truffaut away from the independent distributor.

Gradually, the number of art houses dwindled, and in 1965 Cy Harvey says he and his partner retired from the film business.

"I'll tell you a big secret," Harvey says. "I barely came out of there with a dollar. I mean, we broke even after 12 years of work."

The new owners of Janus, Saul Turell and William Becker, changed the mission of the company. Saul Turell's son, Jonathan, is the current director of Janus.

Turell says his father aggressively acquired films, and began supplying titles to universities and schools. Many children saw The Red Balloon in the 1970s and '80s thanks to Janus.

Today's film buffs can see the two-headed Janus logo on DVD through its sister company: The Criterion Collection. Janus founder Harvey says he is amazed by the company's evolution. And, he says, cineastes still crave an artful foreign film.

'It's not always open and facile and easy to understand," Harvey says. "It makes you think. And a good film will make you think."

To celebrate its 50th anniversary, Janus has struck 30 new prints highlighting its history. The films will tour North America through 2007.



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