The former artistic director of the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, Serge Bromberg, could be facing a 4-year prison sentence for his part in a deadly fire. Bromberg was the artistic director for the festival from 1999 to 2012. After he left, he focused his attention on film restoration and distribution under the banner of Lobster Films, which he established in 1985. Lobster Films’ library consists of 50,000 vintage films and more than 210,00 reels.
Back in August 2020, Bromberg was storing nitrate film reels in the basement of an eight-story apartment complex. While moving some reels around, a fire broke out that killed two people. One living directly above the storage area, and another lost their life attempting to escape the fire by jumping from the 4th floor. Since it was during vacation season, the building was relatively empty.
Old nitrate film reels, like the ones Bromberg was storing, are extremely volatile and inflammable. Nitrate film needs to be carefully handled and stored under specific conditions. One of those conditions is refrigeration which he was doing until 1998 when neighbors complained about the noise from the AC unit. Add in the fact that the Vincennes area, where the complex was located, was experiencing a heatwave and this area had no fire alarm. It created a perfect storm for tragedy to strike. Reports also state that the firewall disintegrated soon after the flames erupted.
Also, you cannot extinguish a nitrate fire with water.
Fires involving nitrate film reels are also difficult to extinguish and to add insult to injury, they let off highly toxic gases as they burn. Due to his profession, Bromberg is well aware of the dangers of nitrate film reels.
He claims he was using the space to hold a few reels for France’s National Cinema Center (CNC). For them to be restored and preserved under its cinema conservation programs but there was some kind of delay. But there are some claims his own personal films were in there too. This prompted prosecutor Missiva Chermak-Felonneau to ask why he didn’t store them in a more remote location, considering how dangerous nitrate film is. Investigators estimated that between 1,364 and 1,953 reels were being stored at the time of the fire. But Bromberg said at the trial there were precisely 965 reels at that time.
“I would like to say that I am the sole person responsible for this drama. It is my fault and exclusively my fault,” Bromberg told the court. “I am unforgivable and I hardly dare ask for forgiveness.”
Bromberg is currently being tried for manslaughter in relation to this horrible fire. The prosecution is asking for a four-year sentence, with three of them suspended, and a $150,000 (€150,000) fine for Lobster Films. The final judgment on the sentencing of this case will happen in January 2023.