The national boxoffice for Canadian features is depressing and, key sources predict, will not substantially improve this year.

The situation breaks down sharply between French-track Quebec and the rest of the country.

In Quebec, there is a market for home-grown pics that top line name French-track performers who are unknown in the rest of the country. Top Quebec French pics can score with $2 million grosses in the province, which has a population of six million, but fail in the rest of the country in subtitled or dubbed release.

Conversely, a usual “top” national gross for English-track pics has been about $C300,000, the Quebec take included.

Sweet ‘Jesus’

Denys Arcand’s “Jesus Of Montreal” was a rare exception that grossed $C1 million in Toronto subtitle release in 1989.

Lacking Quebec’s self-enclosed market and star system, English-track producers and distribs regularly blame their poor showing partly on the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. They also blame requirements of Canadian content – that is, Canadians must be among the creative, technical and performing personnel before the government will invest in production.

Distribs which are Canadian owned and operated complain about unregulated and overwhelming competition from U.S. suppliers who routinely claim three-quarters of Canada’s population as part of the U.S. “domestic” market.

Some of these Canadian distribs cannot do business directly in Quebec because of the province’s trade barrier against distribs that are not based in its jurisdiction.

But these same producers and distribs have yet to combine forces and make broadly commercial films to attract filmgoers drawn to heavily promoted U.S. releases flowing freely across the Canada-U.S. border.

Federal Telefilm Canada, an investment and marketing-support agency, and its provincial counterparts heavily skew their film activities to low-budget niche product with mandatorily high Canadian content.

Telefilm Canada execs argue a national $C250,000-$300,000 gross for English-track pics is a major improvement over the last decade. They say it compares favorably to the take of most top U.S. indie and foreign-language specialty films released across the country.

Action Plan falls flat

But in its current-year Action Plan, Telefilm admits that English-track boxoffice “continues to be less than satisfactory.” English-track pics have not hit the $C2 million national gross level since the short-lived, high-flying 1979-’81 period of the federal 100% investor tax write-off scheme. The write-off has long since been reduced to 30%.

Telefilm’s Feature Fund, operating since 1986, will invest $C30.5 million this fiscal year in English and French-track pics.

Telefilm Canada has established a separate $C5 million feature fund strictly for commercially intended English-track pics and tv projects that do not qualify for its main film or broadcast funds. The new fund will make loans, such as the $C1 million advanced in return for points in David Cronenberg’s Canada-U.K. co-prod, “Naked Lunch,” and will provide bridge or interim financing.

The agency also has increased its share of marketing costs to English-track distribs, which qualify for the agency’s annual $C17 million Distribution Fund, to 75% from a previous two-thirds contribution.

“We’re not going into anything just to make a buck,” says Telefilm exec director Pierre Des Roches. “Our risk factor is 25%, and criteria will be based on presales.

“We cannot do enough. Volume is very important. It’s a business we’re in.”

Des Roches predicts the new fund may double to $C10 million “in two year’s time.”

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