Showbiz Update: Canada - Quebec

Denise Robert is one of Canada’s leading movie producers but she isn’t above jumping on the bus — literally — and touring her home province of Quebec promoting her movies. In fact, she does these road trips for most of the major movies she produces.

As do her Quebecois colleagues: For any significant Quebec movie release, the director, producer and stars travel across la belle province en autobus to attend premieres, do media and host audience meet-and-greets in smaller cities like Chicoutimi, Trois Rivieres, Quebec City and Sherbrooke. These tours are a key part of the marketing plan for big local releases in the province and they are one of the reasons that Quebec film has been booming at the local box office for the past decade.

“Audiences all over get to meet the artists and we believe the success has to come from the regions, not just the big cities,” says Robert, whose credits include “The Barbarian Invasions,” “Fathers and Guns” and this summer’s top Quebec-made box office performer, the black comedy “A Sense of Humor.”

“These tours work,” she says. “It also gives us an opportunity to see the reaction to the film. It’s nice to see people appreciate it. If you bring the talent to the people, they feel part of the film. It’s also good for word-of-mouth.”

Hitting the highways of Quebec isn’t the only secret of the region’s film success story of the past decade. These films also benefit from pricey TV campaigns and lots of outdoor ads. It’s estimated that the top distributors, Alliance Films and Entertainment One, will spend between $500,000 and $800,000 to market a local pic, which is similar to what a Hollywood studio would spend in Quebec on a top release like “Harry Potter” or “Captain America.”

But it isn’t just about marketing and promotion.

“I personally think that the quality of the filmmaking has really improved,” says David Reckziegel, the Montreal-based president of eOne Films, North America. “There was a backlog of stories that hadn’t been told.”

Quebec films weren’t scoring at the B.O. until in recent years, when helmers switched from dark themes to more lighter fare, with comedies like “A Sense of Humor,” “Father and Guns” and the bilingual cop laffer “Bon Cop Bad Cop.”

The two biggest hits this year are: “A Sense of Humor,” the story of two stand-up comics taken hostage by a serial killer who wants to be taught how to be funny, has rung up more than $3 million at the B.O.; and “Starbuck,” writer-director Ken Scott’s gentle dramedy about an eternal adolescent who discovers, in his 40s, that he has fathered more than 500 children thanks to frequent trips to the fertility clinic, has taken more than $2 million.

Local films accounted for 8.8% of the overall Quebec ticket sales pie in 2010, down from 12.8% the previous year. But it’s a skewed comparison as last year saw the release of “Fathers and Guns,” one of the biggest local pics ever. “Guns” made more than $10 million, and is being remade for Sony by producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall. Despite the dip, French-language pics in the region still outscore English-Canadian films in Canada, which struggle to even come close to 1% marketshare.

Quebec filmmakers have had trouble selling auds on serious fare, though Denis Villeneuve’s Oscar-nominated “Incendies” surprised many by grossing $3.5 million in French Canada and $1 million more in English Canada. It is also one of the rare films from Quebec to make a mark in the U.S., selling $2 million worth of tickets.

Vincent Guzzo, VP of local exhibitor Guzzo Cinemas, says folks here are proud to see homegrown pics.

“We have a lot in common,” says Guzzo. “We love hockey, we love poutine. Also because of the language issue, people say, ‘Hey this is cool, this is part of my culture.’ Canadian films try to imitate the American style. The Quebec movies are a little more locally based.”

Film festivals:

Montreal World Film Festival
Where: Montreal
When: August

Montreal Festival du Nouveau Cinema
Dedicated to indies and autuers
Where: Montreal
When: Oct. 12-23

Cinemania
French film celebration
Where: Montreal
When: Nov. 3-13

Fantasia
Fanasy films and genre fare
Where: Montreal
When: July-August

Rendez-vous du Cinema Quebecois

Montreal Intl. Documentary Festival

Montreal Intl. Black Film Festival

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