Over the past year, Radiance Films have taken the boutique Blu-ray world by storm with a series of excellent home media releases that include the work of auteurs such as Robert Altman, Damiano Damiani, Kinji Fukasaku, François Truffaut and Todd Solondz. I had the privilege of interviewing Fran Simeoni, director of Radiance Films to discuss the label’s first year on the market, transitioning from Arrow Films to start a new distribution company, what to look forward to in the future and more. Over at Blueprint, many of Radiance’s releases have been covered by David, Andrew and John which I’ll be linking to as they’re mentioned.
Titles like Welcome to the Dollhouse, Messiah of Evil, A Woman Kills and Miami Blues are films that weren’t even on my radar until the Radiance releases and I had a fantastic time checking them out for the first time. In your many years working as a label director, what are some of your favourite releases you’ve worked on?
I am very fortunate to say with honesty, there are simply too many to name. A perk of the job is being able to find your favourite films and see them released. Increasingly though, I’m finding so many of my favourites already out. When I came to start Radiance, I took stock of my work, the market and indeed my own collection. I pored over it and thought “What excites me about collecting?” What really stood out were films I had never heard of but had read about or taken a chance on and I realised I hadn’t had that feeling in a while so I wanted to recapture that and it became the guiding principle for the label. I realise I haven’t named any titles but that’s probably because so many rush at me at once. Today, let’s say Rohmer’s Comedies and Proverbs, The Night of the Hunter and The ‘Burbs.
The titles I previously mentioned are just a few of the excellent titles you’ve released in 2023 but if you had to pick three titles to sell somebody on the Radiance catalogue, which would they be?
The label is very varied as my tastes are. I like deep arthouse films, all the new wave cinemas, a lot of 60s/70s stuff. I’ve got a soft spot for Amicus stuff and sci-fi and I like strange transgressive films too, so it’s kind of all over the place but then that’s just a reflection of what interests me. I liken it to days of the week. On a Monday, I might have the energy for an arthouse film like The Working Class Goes to Heaven, by mid-week, I might fancy something a little lighter, like Il sorpasso. By Friday night, I want fun so I might go for Miami Blues. There is a strong representation for crime in the catalogue which is possibly my favourite genre if I think about how often it’s represented, but also comedy, even a film like Working Class, ostensibly a serious film has comedic moments.
I imagine the change from working at a company such as Arrow Video to going independent resulted in many challenges but as we’re reaching the one year anniversary of Radiance, would you consider Radiance’s first year a success?
Yes, very much so, I’m very fortunate that so many people have engaged with the label so quickly and I now realise what a big risk I took. But I think that uncompromising attitude contributed to the success of the label. The design and title selection were really key, I didn’t do anything I didn’t totally believe in and every time someone would say something like how good Radiance’s hit rate was with the quality of films it would just spur me on to keep things going in that vein. Though admittedly the films aren’t for everyone, A Woman Kills will have some people scratching their heads but those that get excited by discoveries like this and thoroughly unique filmmaking have responded really well. Similarly something like Scream and Scream Again which, for me is just a hell of a good time. I first saw it with an audience and its stayed with ever since, also because it was my first Amicus film. But some people find it to be too much of a chaotic mix but that’s precisely why it’s so fun. Plus, Fritz Lang liked it!
One of the big draws of physical media for many people are the bonus features. Are there any particular extras that stand out to you from Radiance’s 2023 line-up?
The first thing that comes to mind is the two hour documentary on O.C. and Stiggs, the sheer scale of that is something to make it stand out but also the amount of amazing footage we got from so many people, it’s such a brilliant document for that film and I don’t think you’d get that anywhere else but on home video. TV or book or even online writing simply don’t do things like that anymore so home video companies are definitely filling a void that has been left by the likes of Channel 4, Sky, Faber etc.
With the world of boutique physical media growing yearly, I imagine it took a lot of planning to stand out and nail the Radiance look and ‘feel’. As an avid collector of the label’s titles, seeing them all lined up on a shelf together is incredibly aesthetically pleasing. When it comes to that aesthetic, was it a challenge to decide on the final design, such as the removable OBI strips, having the director’s name on the spine or was that something you had in mind from the very start?
Yes, it was incredibly difficult and took a long time trying to work it out but it was fairly typical once the idea was found, it just kind of happened easily from there. The idea was director on spine counterweighted by the logo with the title in the middle. It all just happened like dominoes, once one thing fell into place, so did the rest.
Radiance’s first year has been packed full of films from all over the world, with genres ranging from coming-of-age comedies to yakuza pictures. Are there any new genres that you haven’t dived into with Radiance that you’d like to explore in the future?
Well, in terms of subgenres, yes, many! There’s going to be more action, crime, comedy and drama but when you split these out by filmmakers with unique sensibilities or different eras then they really become something else. I think the Radiance catalogue is probably difficult to pigeonhole in terms of genre for that reason. I have this constant tug and pull with genre cinema, a term I also find very complex. People will often ask about genre cinema and sometimes I think what they’re really asking is “Do I like horror films? Or John Carpenter films? Or do I like classical Hollywood genres?” and I would say yes to all of that, with a big caveat. In all genres, I have films I love but also films I think are pretty rubbish and it’s the dialogue that some filmmakers have with genre that I find really interesting. A Jean-Pierre Melville film doesn’t ever sit easily within a crime genre, we don’t have the narrative beats that make it like the Hollywood genre but that’s what make his films so thrilling. But when you do have a Hollywood crime film that hits those beats in a regular way that can often feel a bit mundane and by the time you’ve seen that 100 times I’m far more interested in something that’s going to subvert my expectations and do something a bit different. So it’s filmmakers like that I’m much more drawn to. Alain Cavalier is a fascinating filmmaker and looking at his career trajectory even more so for his work with stars and genre, how that develops from Combat dans l’ile to Plein du Super alone, let alone his whole career. I wish I could release the intervening films but many of them have rights issues.
One of the things I absolutely love about Radiance is the integration of partner labels, like Canadian International Pictures, Fun City Editions and Altered Innocence. Seeing some of these releases that have been exclusive to the States make their ways over the pond is delightful and I was curious, will we be seeing more partner labels joining the Radiance family in the future?
I am working with two other labels but one has their own distribution and another is undecided so while Radiance is doing work, they may not be so visible right now. We are in discussion with someone else who wants to start a label but needs funding so there’s always interesting things happening. Whether we release more from those other labels and develop along similar lines remains to be seen, we are focusing on Radiance right now as our own slate is so busy so we’ll see!
Do you get out to see any of the latest films and if so, what are some of your favourites from this year?
Running Radiance has taken up nearly all my film watching but the most recent release I saw was The Killer which I liked very much. I need to see more but I will catch up eventually. I don’t like blockbusters that much only in that they’re just not very well made anymore. I love a big action spectacle but I find their equivalent nowadays in Christopher Nolan and Denis Villeneuve to be poor imitations of a generation prior.
With the recent announcement of James Cameron’s films such as The Abyss and True Lies finally receiving hi-def releases for the first time ever, what are some dream titles you’d love to see hit Blu-ray or UHD in the future?
I’m going to be releasing one of my own dream titles very soon. It’s a title I’ve been chasing for five years or so, ever since I heard the person who was managing the director’s estate was open to working it out. So we followed it with them and through a licensor then back, then another and finally managed to secure the film this year.
Another film I’d very much like to see is a film I can’t license, though I tried but the licensor said it wasn’t available and that’s Toshio Matsumoto’s Shura (Demons). An incredible film that would look amazing on HD but sadly I don’t know if we’ll ever get it. Costa-Gavras is another of my favourite filmmakers, I would love to get his first few films out, just an incredible filmmaker that I don’t know why people don’t talk about more.
Speaking of UHD, can we expect to see any titles released by Radiance on the format in the future?
It’s possible, there’s a couple of titles that could work but we need to check rights, masters, budgets and be sure we can actually afford it since UHD is incredibly cost prohibitive for a small label.
Are there any goals in particular that you’re hoping to achieve in next year with Radiance?
I suppose my goal is to get enough customers to trust in the label that we can do some wild stuff. I have ideas for bigger curated collections and restorations that we can only really take on with more titles selling out and more people pre-ordering, shopping direct. There are films I’ve been wanting to release for years but they have challenging licensors or masters so being in a position to get around those issues would be amazing to achieve.
And finally, what can we expect from Radiance Films in 2024?
As good of a mix as 2023, our announcements so far encapsulate it well, we have interesting genre films alongside arthouse films of all shapes and sizes.
To support Radiance directly, check out their website here to see their current line-up of titles, as well as upcoming releases! For updates on new releases, announcements and more, follow Francesco on X (formally known as Twitter) and Radiance on X, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.