Former Annecy artistic director Serge Bromberg is looking at a potential four-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter.
Bromberg was put on trial early last week for his involvement in a fire that claimed the lives of two people during an August 2020 heatwave. According to France’s TV5 Monde, he was storing nitrate film reels in the basement of a building that didn’t have a fire alarm or appropriate climate controls to house such flammable materials. When the reels caught fire, one person living in an apartment above the basement was killed by the flames and another died jumping from the fourth floor in an attempt to get away from them.
Investigators said that between 1,364-1,935 reels weighing between 2.5 and 3.6 tons were being kept in the basement, although Bromberg claims it was only 965 reels weighing around 2,100 pounds. He also said that the reels were originally destined for France’s National Cinema Center (CNC), but the organization had failed to pick them up.
On Wednesday, Bromberg accepted full responsibility for the fire and the two resulting deaths, saying:
I would like to say that I am solely responsible for this tragedy. It is my fault and it is exclusively my fault. I am unforgivable and I hardly dare to ask for forgiveness.
After his admission, the court said it would reserve its judgment until January 24. In addition to the four-year sentence, three suspended, Prosecutor Missiva Chermak-Felonneau has also requested a fine of €150,000 ($156,000) be levied against Bromberg’s Lobster Films.
Bromberg was the artistic director of the Annecy International Animation Film Festival from 1999 to 2012 and has been working in film restoration since.
It’s clear he knew how unsafe it was to be storing nitrate reels in the manner that he was; it’s common knowledge for anyone working in film restoration. He was also the host of a program called Retour de flamme (Backfire) where he screened restored films. The name was selected by Bromberg as a reference to the flammable nature of old nitrate film reels. And, in the video posted below, he can be seen explaining the flammable nature of different types of film reels and even lighting one on fire to demonstrate.