John Dick, an architect of Europe’s modern film and TV support systems, died on July 31 from cancer at the age of 63. He is survived by his partner Anne Boillot and two children, Eoin Dick and Emily Sherlock.
Most executives at the European Union’s Creative Europe Media Program, its film-TV support program, come and go, returning to the private sector or taking up other public office. John Dick stayed the course, serving for near three decades from the program’s full-fledged launch in different and increasingly senior roles.
It was not just the longevity, however, but the impact of his service which proved important. When Dick became head of Ireland’s first Media program, Espace European European (EVE), in 1990, Europe’s film industry was still largely stuck in an auteurist only-production-is-important mold. Multiplexing was driving up filmgoing in Europe but rarely creating openings for its often arthouse production: As theatrical moviegoing boomed, Europe was threatened with being squeezed out.
First as an enterprising head of EVE, then of Media’s Distribution Organization from 1996 to June 2001, and rising finally to become deputy head of Creative Europe Media Unit, Dick helped put through a sea change in attitudes where especially younger filmmakers in European came generally to accept that making films is not just a case of artistic endeavor but also of getting them seen by some kind of audience.
To this cause he brought a fine mind, an acute sense of industry trends, a lifelong passion for distribution, a huge capacity for work, a large sense of humor, and an eminently practical ability to see not only problems but potential and practicable solutions.
Dick’s passion for entertainment was a lifetime vocation.
Born in 1955, he attended Trinity College Dublin, where he studied medicine. But he also became its student union’s entertainment officer. That practice of setting up new initiatives, responding to new market opportunity, never left him.
With physical video distribution – Betamax, VHS – building fast, Dick joined Metropolis Video Film Co in 1983, establishing its retail and industry services, then segued to Solaris Motion Picture Co. from 1987 to 1990, again as managing director.
As in many important events, Dick came to the Media Program by half-chance. Since 1990, under Holde L’Hoest, it began to set up sectorial sub-units in E.U. states. The U.K. got development, Spain training. Ireland was singled out for video, and David Kavanagh, then on the board of Dieter Kosslick’s Efdo distribution initiative, asked Dick to help set it up.
Dick at that time ran the hugely popular Metropolis video club in an upper room at Dublin’s Temple Bar, plying a new generation of Dublin film students with classic titles and world cinema – an achievement he remained proud of.
Dropping back videos, Kavanagh recalls, he “started an informal conversation and got a lecture from John about the problems of the industry, leading to us asking him to interview, where we got another lengthier lecture and, very relieved that someone knew what they were talking about, offered him the job.”
“The key thing with John was not just that he got the industry (he was very willing to have a very strong opinion, but change his mind if someone made a convincing counter argument) but that he also very quickly, not having had a background in it, got the Commission,” says Kavanagh.
He added: “He was always good at striking a balance between what the industry needed with what, practically speaking, the Commission could actually do.”
Dick “defended Europe and its audiovisual industry with incredible integrity and was always open to debate and discussion, offering extremely accurate and well-thought-through arguments to defend his and the E.U. position. I learned a lot from him,” adds Antonio Saura who, when at Spain’s Media backed-Media Business School, organized with EVE a workshop in Dublin on international video distribution.
Run with caring precision, and praised for its usefulness, the workshop also allowed for a few hours for last-night and late-night discussion at a pub. Dick did Trojan work, says Kavanagh. Yet though he took work very seriously, putting in long hours, laboring weekends, he also thought it should be fun, was a bon vivant, when he had the time, paying out of his own pocket for an employees’ Christmas office party.
He also encouraged them to feel a sense of excitement at catching the latest foreign films; which was what the Media Program, and his life work, was very much about.