Canadian Distribs Eye Slim Feature Pickings

Boxoffice performance of specialty films is sinking in English Canada and pics from France and Europe have nose-dived in Quebec.

“American films have been strong and are getting stronger: it’s a worldwide phenomenon,” per Andre Link, topper Cinepix C/FP distribution.

Add to that “what looks like a mediocre year for films at Cannes,” and you get an orchard-full of distribs who are going “cherry picking” on the Croisette, per Victor Loewy, topper at Alliance Releasing, the most active distrib in French and English Canada. Over 14 distribution companies have reps “gem hunting” in Cannes.

Loewy isn’t expecting to find gold. He said, “There’s nothing exciting in competition that doesn’t already have a U.S. distributor,” which is a roadblock for a “big ticket company looking for big ticket films.”

Loewy’s situation is not unique. Most Canadians are looking to buy commercial fare.

“We’re looking for theatrical pictures, the more commercial the better. We’re not as interested in specialty pictures,” said Toronto-based Andy Emilio, senior v.p. of C/FP Distribution. He said public interest in specialty pics, such as “Icicle Thief and “Taxi Blues,” has really dropped off.

“High profile specialty pictures haven’t performed as well as we would have liked of late,” he added. All things considered, Emilio said, “it’s all we can do just to make money.”

The scenario is the same in Quebec. “French films (from France) are doing basically nothing. They’re not working. Period,” per Loewy. He said there are very few exceptions to the rule including “Tatie Danielle,” “Cyrano De Bergerac” (which did over $C2 million in Quebec alone for Cinepix C/FP) and “Nikita” (distributed by Key Largo in Quebec and Alliance in English Canada).

Virtually all Quebec distribs said they’re being very careful about their acquisitions of French fare this year (a category which used to account for 10% to 15% of all films in Quebec). “Despite the fact that everybody tells you they’re being cautious, it’s not true,” Loewy insisted. “Half of the Quebec distribs are in Paris right now (April),” he said. True enough. Distribs traditionally shop in Paris before Cannes to get a jump on their competitors. However, even in Paris there was no shopping spree.

“In previous years, the films (screened in Paris) were all presold. This year there’s a lot unsold. I think that says a lot,” according to Marie-Claude Poulin, Montreal-based buyer for Malofilm distribution. That spells more cherry picking.

The Toronto Malofilm rep, Jim Murphy, said for English Canada he’s looking for video-driven releases as well as theatrical films.

Andy Myers, general manager Norstar Releasing, wants “story-driven quality films primarily for theatrical distribution,” and plans to be “pounding the pavement to ferret them out.”

Of all Canadian distribs, there’s only one who said he had “more money to spend” and plans to buy “seven or eight” pictures: that’s Orval Fruitman, prez of Brightstar Distribution, who wants both “art films and commercial films.”

The rest said they have no specific number or shopping agenda. Time and time again, distribs said the days of acquiring large numbers of films to fill screens are long gone. Now, distribs are prudently buying films based strictly on their own merits.

“The trap we can get into is buying a certain amount of product,” Emilio said. “I think you have to cut the cloth to fit the suit.”

Loewy agreed. Alliance has solid output deals with London-based Film Four International and New Line for British and American fare, so there’s no panic. “We’re very laid back,” he said.

Karen Murray in Toronto contributed to this report.

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