France Film, Astral ink homevid, TV pact

Canada’s oldest distribution company, France Film, has struck a homevideo and television deal with Astral Film Enterprises to expand into English-speaking Canada from its base in Quebec.

It’s a small but bold move, especially after a year when four companies that distributed in English-speaking Canada went bankrupt in a market dominated by its American neighbor.

France Film VP Roger Khayat assures the 50-year-old corporation with diverse assets will tread cautiously and test the English-language market with 15 American B-movies in homevid and TV before diving into theatrical.

As part of a long-term strategy, France Film has begun slowly with only 1,500 -2,000 units in December for action pix such as kickboxing flick “Maximum Force, ” which Khayat said did quite well.

“It’s not much but it’s not a fiasco, either. We’re going slowly and we’ll see what happens,” he said. “We are very conservative, but when we start doing something, we do it right.”

The strategy is designed to avoid the boom or bust of what “our competitors did, opening offices in Toronto and across the country, and running up a lot of overhead.”

Instead, “We associated ourselves with Astral to handle the (physical) distribution, and we’re going to test video and TV first because you can measure the results better,” Khayat explained. “Eventually we’ll get into theatrical, but that’s much more risky.”

Khayat already is taking a risk increasing theatrical launches from eight films last year to 15 in ’93 in North America’s only French-lingo territory (with its tiny 6 million population).

However, he’s got one likely winner with helmer Nikita Mikhalkov’s next film, “Anna.”

“We just finalized a deal to acquire Nikita’s next film, which is still shooting in the former Soviet Union,” Khayat confirmed.

That acquisition is based on the success of Mikhalkov’s current pic “Urga” (“Close to Eden”), which has racked up almost $ C500,000 ($ 425,000) in Quebec alone, out-muscling the $ 377,187 it garnered for Miramax in the United States.

France Film and Astral may venture out together in theatrical distribution in the fickle English-language Canadian market if the test films go well. “We might buy product together for theatrical release,” Khayat elaborated. “We’ll handle French Canada, they’ll handle English Canada.”

“Right now we’re looking at American product. We’re looking for both B titles and A titles,” for video, TV and possibly theatrical distribution.

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