Milestone Films and Kino Lorber Announce 4K Restoration & Release for Charles Burnett's Lost Film 'The Annihilation of Fish'

By Kino Lorber | January 30, 2024
Milestone Films and Kino Lorber Announce 4K Restoration & Release for Charles Burnett's Lost Film 'The Annihilation of Fish'
Milestone Films and Kino Lorber are proud to announce the 4K and analog 35mm restoration and release of Charles Burnett’s long-lost feature, The Annihilation of Fish, starring James Earl Jones, Lynn Redgrave, and Margot Kidder. The restoration by UCLA Film & Television Archive and The Film Foundation with funding provided by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation of the acclaimed independent filmmaker’s missing movie will have its world premiere at the Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio on March 2, 2024 as part of the 10th annual Cinema Revival: A Festival of Film Restoration. Mr. Burnett will be in attendance. UCLA Film & Television Archive will host the film’s Los Angeles premiere on April 5, as part of their 25th anniversary Festival of Preservation.
“Charles Burnett is one of the finest filmmakers in this country,” said Martin Scorsese, Founder and Chair of The Film Foundation. “His pictures speak in a cinematic voice that is uniquely and completely his own. For much too long, The Annihilation of Fish has been in limbo. It took many years and endless persistence to rescue this beautiful, delicate picture and get the original materials properly restored and preserved. It required the combined efforts of multiple organizations — Milestone Films, UCLA Film & Television Archive, The Film Foundation, and the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation — to see this restoration through, and I’m so happy that it’s finally ready for the world to discover.”
Shot in 1999, The Annihilation of Fish screened that September at the Toronto International Film Festival and was acquired for distribution. But following a single bad review in Variety, the distributor canceled the film’s release. For almost a quarter of a century, The Annihilation of Fish has been unavailable on all media — it has never been distributed on 35mm, DCP, VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, television, or streaming — anywhere.  
In 2003, Mr. Burnett asked Milestone Films (distributor of his features Killer of Sheep, My Brother’s Weddingand The Final Insult plus five short films) to try to acquire the rights for his lost film, The Annihilation of Fish. Thus began a 19-year-long odyssey that included hundreds of phone calls, faxes, and emails contacting distributors, producers and heirs, archives, labs, lawyers, the US Treasury Department, and finally the US Bankruptcy Court for the State of California. Even after finally acquiring the rights for The Annihilation of Fish, Milestone spent six months battling a lab to get the master film materials transferred to the UCLA Film & Television Archive — which now holds the film’s 35mm original A/B picture negative, 35mm internegative, 35mm interpositive, 35mm original track negative, 35mm prints and various sound masters.
Charles Burnett’s feature films Killer of Sheep (1978) and To Sleep With Anger (1990) were both named to the prestigious US National Film Registry. In 2022, Killer of Sheep was also listed in Sight and Sound’s international poll as one of the “100 Most Important Films of All Time.” The filmmaker has also made groundbreaking work for television, including Nightjohn; Selma, Lord, Selmaand Warming By the Devil’s Fire. In presenting him with an honorary Oscar® in 2017, filmmaker Ava DuVernay described Mr. Burnett as  “A giant, a legend, an icon, a true artist… one of the most significant American directors in the history of cinema of any color.” He is also a past recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship.
Adapted from a short story by Anthony C. Winkler, The Annihilation of Fish (1999, 108 minutes) is a tender comedy about two eccentric humans (James Earl Jones and Lynn Redgrave) finding love later in life. With extraordinary performances from a stellar cast, the film tackles such issues as race, mental illness, and aging with anarchic humor and energy.
On the acquisition and restoration of his film, Charles Burnett has written: 
The Annihilation of Fish was written by Anthony Winkler, produced by Paul Heller and Kris Dodge, edited by Nancy Richardson, cinematography by John Demps, Jr., sound by Veda Campbell, music by Laura Karpman, production designer Nina Ruscio, production supervisor Ed Santiago, and starring Lynn Redgrave, James Earl Jones, Linden Chiles, Margot Kidder, and Tommy Hicks. There are so many people whom I have to thank who worked over the years to get The Annihilation of Fish restored and released. Releasing the film conveys a great deal to everyone involved, particularly the cast and crew, especially the late Paul Heller, who spent ten years producing the film. I want to thank Milestone Films, UCLA Film & Television Archive, The Film Foundation and the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation, who found the funding to restore and release it so that cinema lovers can enjoy this story about two distinctly different, lonely people who find love in the crazy world while still holding on to their bizarre outlooks on life.”
The Annihilation of Fish will premiere March 2, 2024 at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio. UCLA Film & Television Archive will host the Los Angeles premiere on April 5, as part of their 25th anniversary Festival of Preservation. Milestone Films and Kino Lorber will handle the film’s long-awaited international theatrical release of the film and later in 2024 will premiere the first-ever release of The Annihilation of Fish on DVD, Blu-ray, SVOD, and streaming services.