Contemporary Films was established in 1951 by
Charles Cooper (1910-2001). The company started out in Soho from where it made a significant contribution to film culture in the UK. From 1989 to 2008, the company operated out of offices in Highgate, north London and from 2009 until the middle of 2014 it was based in north-west London, on the edge of Hampstead Heath. In July 2014 the company moved to its current premises in Crouch End, north London.
Contemporary Films is the oldest independent
film distribution company in the UK. In creating
Contemporary Films, Charles Cooper conceived
his company as the means by which arthouse films,
shorts and documentaries from all over the world
would be made available to British audiences.
Thus the company was instrumental in introducing
British filmgoers to some of the key works of
major directors such as Andrzej Wajda, Milos
Forman, Ingmar Bergman, Mike Leigh, Jean Renoir,
Robert Bresson, Sergei Eisenstein, Andrei Tarkovsky,
Werner Herzog, Satyajit Ray, Yasujiro Ozu, Nagisa
Oshima, Bernardo Bertolucci, Luis Bunuel and
many others. It built up a unique film catalogue,
comprising some of the finest films of world
cinema, and many film enthusiasts born in the
forties and fifties cite Contemporary Films as
an important element in their film education.
The Coopers' independence of mind and left-wing
political views were often reflected in the films
the company acquired - such as Frederic Rossif's
definitive film on the Spanish Civil War, To
Die in Madrid.
The company also had a hand in the making of March
a documentary about the first march from London
to the Atomic
Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston, in the
county of Berkshire. It also still retains rights
to the seminal Felix Greene documentaries of
the 1960s and 70s, shot in China and Vietnam.
In 1967 Contemporary branched out into exhibition
and acquired its first cinema, the Paris Pullman
in London's South Kensington, and later the Phoenix
cinemas – one in East Finchley, north London,
and the other in Oxford.
In 1976 the National Film Theatre in London
mounted a retrospective of films introduced to
the UK by Contemporary Films, in celebration
of the company’s 25th anniversary. A second
retrospective was held in 1991 to mark its 40th
Charles Cooper died in 2001 and in 2008 his
widow, Kitty, took the decision to retire. The
company was acquired by Eric Liknaitzky, its
longest-serving employee, in December of that