French language pics are Canada's only hits

What a difference a decade makes.

At the beginning of this century, local French-language films accounted for just 4.5% of all the box-office action in Quebec. But support for homegrown French-Canadian cinema has been surging for the past decade, with no signs of slumping.

The record-breaking year was 2005, when Quebecois films nabbed 18.2% of all movie ticket sales in la belle province.

Industry observers believe that record is unlikely to be broken any time soon. But in the last five years of the decade, box office for local films settled into the 10%-to-12% rate of the overall ticket sales pie in Quebec, a good score by any estimate. By comparison, English-Canadian films normally grab less than 1% of all tickets sold in Canada.

Box office for Quebec film was up significantly in 2009, hitting 12.8% of all grosses, compared with 9.3% the previous year.

Franco Quebec cinema’s gains come at the expense of Hollywood. Over the same 10 years, Hollywood watched unhappily as its share of the movie-ticket action in Quebec sank from 85.2% of all sales in 2000 to 75% in 2009. In other words, moviegoers in Montreal, Quebec City and other Quebec burghs decided they’d often rather see an oh-so-Quebecois comedy like “Fathers and Guns” than the latest American blockbuster.

In fact, “Fathers and Guns” (“De pere en flic”) was the top ticket-seller of 2009 in Quebec. Even “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” had to take a back-seat to this local laugher about a father and son who both toil for the Montreal police force. “Father and Guns” grossed C$10.5 million ($10.1 million) compared with just $6.8 million for the latest “Potter” pic in the Canadian province.

Producers, distributors, helmers and writers have turned away from the arty fare of previous decades and started crafting comedies, thrillers and crowd-pleasing dramas.

The foreign-language Oscar win in 2004 for “The Barbarian Invasions” was also the first sign that the rest of the world was starting to notice the booming Quebec film scene. Since then, a number of Quebec pics have attracted notice elsewhere. Rocking gay-themed coming-of-age drama “C.R.A.Z.Y.” was sold in 40 countries in 2005 and garnered the attention of producers Graham King and Martin Scorsese, who hired “C.R.A.Z.Y.” helmer Jean-Marc Vallee to direct “The Young Victoria.” Both “The Barbarian Invasions” and “Seducing Dr. Lewis” were hits in France. “Invasions” caused quite the stir in the French industry by snaring several Cesar awards.

More recently, no-budget drama “I Killed My Mother” took home three prizes in the Directors Fortnight at last May’s Cannes Film Festival and is set to be released Stateside Feb. 5. Several weeks ago, Sony Pictures acquired remake rights to “Fathers and Guns,” with the Hollywood adaptation to be produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall.

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