“Channel 4 was tasked by parliament with encouraging innovation and experiment in the form and content of programmes. Alan did that, and more”. Alan Fountain obituary by Jeremy Isaacs.

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Alan Fountain encouraged innovation and experiment in the form and content of programmes at Channel 4

My colleague Alan Fountain, who has died unexpectedly aged 69, played a leading role in developing independent film in the UK, and the workshop movement that formed part of it. In 1981 he joined the infant Channel 4, and for 13 years, as commissioning editor for independent film and video, brought into being two strands of programming, The Eleventh Hour and People to People, which added an entirely new dimension to what viewers saw on television.

Channel 4 was tasked by parliament with encouraging innovation and experiment in the form and content of programmes. Alan did that, and more.

Born in Chelmsford, to Bim (nee Browne) and Harold Fountain, who were teachers, he wrote about horses for Sporting Life and took a degree in philosophy and film studies at Nottingham University.

In Birmingham, the Black Audio Film Collective showed, in Handsworth Songs, race and racism as black Brummies experienced it. In Newcastle, Amber, now a photographic collective, made Seacoal, about impoverished men and women scouring coal from the seashore. It won a Silver Bear at the Berlin film festival.

People to People offered access for community programme-making, often dealing with working lives, in factories, hospitals and on the land. In Yellow Bellies we met agricultural labourers working on Lincolnshire clay.

Season after season, The Eleventh Hour on Monday evenings at 11 o’clock presented an unpredictable melange: British independent film-makers Malcolm Le Grice or Margaret Tait, the new cinema of Latin America, film-making from Africa, Nicaragua, the emergent world, and long runs of Jean-Luc Godard. Ideas were traded and alliances formed, including one in Germany with Eckart Stein’s Das Kleine Fernsehspiel, licensed to experiment by ZDF.

Parochialism went out of the window; the world was our oyster.

When Alan left Channel 4 he went international: teaching, advising, consulting. He formed Mondial, with Sylvia Stevens, in 1994, developing a digital platform to connect independent film-making internationally – way ahead of its time.

In his last years, Alan surprised us again; he studied and practised psychotherapy, making further use of the empathy he had with people’s minds and hearts. He made a lasting mark on everything he touched.

He is survived by his wife, Tess (nee Woodcraft), whom he met in 1970, his children, Jack and Billie, and grandson, Rudi.

by Jeremy Isaacs. Via The Guardian

 

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