Corinth Films in The Intelligencer

Movie distributor finds success by adapting

By Amanda Cregan

The same year that “Star Wars” and “Annie Hall” debuted on the big screen, John Poole Sr. established his own film company. Corinth Films‘ mission was to feature independent and foreign
films. Nearly 40 years later, this second-generation business continues to bring documentaries and art house films to movie enthusiasts.

Poole Sr. got his start in the film world by working for several years as a production assistant on Hollywood movie sets. He went on to study film in college and went to work for Janus Films as the manager of its non-theatrical division. In 1977, the then New York City man created his own company. The name Corinth Films is derived from the ancient Greek city of Corinth, which was once the center of philosophy and entertainment. In the 1980s, Poole Sr. moved his family from New York to Riegelsville. Today, his son John Poole Jr. operates Corinth Films from the family’s home office in Upper Bucks County. The ability to adjust to changing technology has led to small business success.

As a distributor, Corinth is among film companies that purchase the rights to distribute a movie in a specific territory for a certain number of years. It includes the theatrical release rights down to DVD distribution. When Corinth Films began, it was distributing 16-millimeter films to independent theaters and universities. “They were one of only a handful of distributors at the time that were doing that. It’s not like today, where the market is totally saturated and everyone is distributing these films,” said John Poole Jr. In an era when George Lucas and Woody Allen were breaking onto the scene, movie-goers were beginning to explore dynamic films that were both entertaining and educational. In addition, more colleges and universities were establishing film programs. “It was a very revolutionary time,” said the younger Poole. “It was a total break from the first half of the century. It was totally new ground.”

The acquisition of the 1963 Federico Fellini film “8 1/2” in 1979 became the cornerstone of the company and opened up doors to acquire more films. But the Academy Award-winning, foreign language movie almost bankrupted the company because it was so expensive to acquire, said Poole Jr. When home video technology hit the marketplace, distributors like Corinth Films were upended. Most didn’t survive the transition, he said, noting that he knows of impoverished former movie company owners who own massive film archives that were never transferred to digital. “It totally pulled the rug out,” said the 33-year-old. “Back in the day, most of the money came from theatrical sales because that was the only way. As soon as VHS came out, the business really started to fall on hard times. People could just buy these and watch them at home. It was more accessible now.”

Distributors such as Corinth Films take a percentage of the sales of a movie, but are responsible for advertising and producing theater preview trailers. They have the potential to make a lot of money, but risk losing money, too, depending on the film’s success. “Ninety-five percent of the time you’re losing money,” said Poole Jr. Today, most of Corinth’s profits come from video-on-demand and DVD. Having survived the transition to digital and on-demand, the father-and-son film company is focused on acquiring independent films that will gain more audience attention.

The company found great success with the 2010 American documentary “Beautiful Darling,” which tells the story of Candy Darling, a pioneering transgender actress who starred in several Andy Warhol projects. “That was our turning point with this new film acquisition strategy,” said Poole Jr., who still works alongside his 71-year-old father. This summer, Corinth Films
released “The President” in select theaters in New York City and San Francisco. Directed by an exiled Iranian filmmaker and writer, it is a film about a dictator whose regime is toppled but he’s oblivious to it. It’s expected to be released on Netflix and DVD in September. Culturally, Poole Jr. said, there’s been a shift back toward independent and documentary films. Moviegoers
are growing tired of the big Hollywood blockbusters, he said. “There’s a lot of good documentaries,” he said. “It’s the technology that has made it easy. There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on in the world, and it’s easy to pick up a camera and capture it.”