Christal bursts out of Quebec

Film company to expand across Canada

MONTREAL — Christian Larouche’s Christal Films, already one of the leading distributors in Quebec, is set to aggressively expand nationally across Canada.

It’s a major roll of the dice for the Montreal indie, given how tough it is to make money distributing pics in the Great White North. But Larouche, president of Christal Films, is a born gambler and says he’s happy to try his hand where many others have failed.

“It’s time for my company to have control of all my assets,” says Larouche, on the phone from the Cannes Film Festival just minutes before viewing the world preem of Wong Kar Wai’s “My Blueberry Nights,” which Christal will release across Canada. “I like to control my destiny; it is a big gamble but, as a distributor, you’re always gambling.”

Beginning on May 31, Christal will cut ties to Toronto-based Maple Pictures, and Christal will handle its own theatrical releases across Canada. Until a year ago, Maple had been releasing all of Christal’s films outside of Quebec; Christal had been releasing Maple titles in Quebec.

A year ago, Christal began buying national rights to some pics, notably “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” and “The March of Penguins,” and releasing them itself across

the country. Now it will be doing that not only with all its pics but also, for the first time, with its own video and TV sales. It will also no longer be releasing Liongate pics in Quebec. Lionsgate and Maple pics will now be handled

by Seville Pictures in the province.

Larouche adds that he is in negotiations to buy out Lionsgate’s minority ownership stake in Christal, leaving him as the sole owner.

Christal has a high-profile lineup of pics set for national release besides “My Blueberry Nights,” including Emir Kusturica’s Cannes competition entry “Promise Me This,” Juan Antonio Bayona’s Critics Week selection “The Orphanage,” Woody Allen’s “Cassandra’s Dream,” Alastair Fothergill’s docu “Earth” and Christopher Smith’s horror spoof “Severance.”

Christal is also getting into producing more English fare, with a couple of pics in the pipeline. Lensing begins next month in New York and Montreal on “Afterwards,” a France-Canada co-production from France’s Fidelite Films and Christal starring John Malkovich, Romain Duris and Evangeline Lilly. Shooting also starts in June on “Mr. Nobody,” a $50 million pic directed and written by Belgian filmmaker Jaco Van Dormael and starring Jared Leto and Sarah Polley. The French-Belgian-German-Canadian co-production will shoot in Canada and Europe, wrapping in December.

“I’m looking for bigger pictures for English Canada,” Larouche says.

Larouche is expanding beyond Quebec’s borders because he feels there is no more room for growth in la belle province. He scores big in Quebec with pics from France and with homegrown French-language fare like the recent hit teen drama “A Vos Marques … Party!” — one of the year’s top local grossers.

Claude Carpentier, who has been executive VP of Christal since 1998, will be in charge of video distribution across the country, and Larouche plans to name an exec shortly to head pan-Canadian TV sales. The Toronto office of Christal is run by Tony Wosk, the company’s director of acquisitions and development.

Christal plans to release 10-12 pics across Canada annually, and another 40 in Quebec only. The company will release approximately 100 pics on DVD each year.

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