Montreal — The Canuck indie distribution sector has been marked by several huge success stories in recent months. Most notably, though perhaps unsurprisingly, Alliance Atlantis scored big with the last installment of “The Lord of the Rings,” and feisty microdistrib Equinoxe Films raked it in with “The Passion of the Christ.”

2003 STATS
Top film: “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (Alliance Atlantis; $30 million)
Top indie: “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”
Total B.O.: $714 million
Indie B.O.: $194 million
Total releases: 529
Indie releases: 342
“Bad Education” (Seville)
“Crimson Rivers 2” (TVA)
“Metallica: Some Kind of Monster” (Capri)
“Podium” (Christal)
“Something Borrowed” (Equinoxe)
“Super Size Me” (Odeon)

But surviving as an indie distrib in Canada remains a tough proposition. The biz continues to be dominated by the Hollywood studios and Alliance Atlantis, which controls the flow of other major fare via output deals with Miramax and New Line.

That said, indie product is booming in Quebec. Local French-language cinema has been on a box-office roll for over a year now and it shows no signs of slowing down. Homegrown pics grabbed an astonishing 13% of the overall box-office action in Quebec in 2003 and, so far in 2004, ticket sales for local films are holding at about the same level.

Already this year, there have been a number of big Quebec hits, including William Hurt-starrer “The Blue Butterfly,” crime thriller “Le Dernier Tunnel” and sci-fi spoof “Dans une Galaxie Pres de Chez Vous.”

“Now the public has confidence in Quebec films,” says Christian Larouche, president of Montreal-based distrib Christal Films. “We’re producing movies that people want to see.”

Bryan Gliserman, prexy of Odeon Films, is upbeat that things are slowly improving for English-lingo Canadian cinema with help from funding agency Telefilm Canada’s new policy of supporting more commercial fare.

“In terms of English-Canada, there are signs of life, but we have to be realistic,” he says. “We have C$100 million ($75 million) coming from (Telefilm Canada) and that’s the average budget of a Hollywood release.”

Meanwhile, the Canadian biz is thriving in other areas such as DVD. And TV sales are increasing thanks to the rapid-fire growth of digital cable and DTH services in the country.