All of Canada’s main distribution players will be scouring the screening rooms of the American Film Market looking to acquire U.S. indie product and European fare, because all these executives say the Canadian theatrical market has become increasingly competitive in recent years.

Alliance Releasing, the country’s top distrib, had a record year in 1994 with B.O. receipts in the neighborhood of $C50 million ($35.8 million), mainly thanks to its long-term output deals with companies like Miramax and New Line that brought “Pulp Fiction,” “The Mask,” and “Dumb and Dumber” to Canadian auds.

But Alliance remains aggressive in the indie acquisitions market. The company still picks up a significant number of pix from Europe, and recently grossed good numbers with Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Blue,” “Red” and “White” series, an independent acquisition for Alliance.

“We’re very actively buying films outside of the output deals,” says Alliance Releasing topper Victor Loewy. “We don’t want to be totally dependent on our output deals. So we’re spending a lot of time reading scripts.”

C/FP Distribution has had to be more assertive in the acquisitions market since Miramax moved its Canadian distribution from C/FP to Alliance last year.

C/FP senior veepee Jeff Sackman says the toughest dilemma facing the Canadian distribution scene is the price inflation caused by the difficulty in directly purchasing foreign pix. All too often, the Canuck companies have to acquire these films from U.S. distribs, who buy all North American rights from the foreign producers.

“It’s foolishly competitive in the sense that we overpay,” says Sackman. “The only way to get a film is to overpay. You just end up squeezing your own margins.”

The AFM is an important acquisitions mart for Norstar Entertainment of Toronto, but Norstar vice president Andy Myers says indie pix are now a tougher sell at the box office in Canada.

“Moviegoers in Canada don’t seem to be taking the kind of risks that they used to take,” says Myers. “For an independent film to do well at the box office, it needs a minimum of four-star reviews and editorial coverage before anyone will pay attention to it. And even then, the odds are not tremendous. The AFM is important because there are a greater number of films that are unattached than there would be at a competitive festival like Cannes or Sundance.”

Montreal-based Malofilm Distribution is upping its presence in the English-Canadian theatrical market now that it handles Samuel Goldwyn Co. product in Canada, and the distrib has also begun purchasing more English-lingo fare, like New Zealand festival favorite, “Once Were Warriors.”

“We’re more aggressive in acquiring theatrical pictures for all of Canada – not just French Canada,” says Malofilm Distribution prexy Yves Dion. “European stuff is still important to us, but it’s harder to get theaters for European product. You really need something with a big hook for the European product to perform.”