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Small players find lucrative B.O. niche

Montreal — The Great White North’s indie distrib sector is in a fairly stable phase these days. Alliance Atlantis continues to roundly dominate the scene thanks to its output deals with companies such as Miramax and New Line, but the smaller players still manage to carve out a niche for themselves in the shadow of the Toronto-based film giant.

One interesting development is the rapid-fire growth of Toronto-based ThinkFilm, the distribution outfit headed by former Lions Gate Films exec Jeff Sackman. The company is much smaller than Alliance but releases pics on both sides of the border, giving it an advantage in terms of acquiring indie product.

In addition, now that producer Robert Lantos is a co-owner with Sackman, Think has access to pics produced by Lantos’ Serendipity Point Films. It was able to nab Lantos-produced “The Statement” and “Being Julia” for Canada. In the future, it may take North American rights on Lantos’ titles, which are among the priciest and highest-profile films coming out of Canada.

“Alliance controls a large part of the independent product (in Canada) and the challenge is to find ways of finding interesting product,” says Randy Manis, senior vice president of acquisitions at ThinkFilm. “The fact that we have a U.S. releasing arm gives us something interesting to offer.”

Foreign-language fare continues to be a tough sell in Canada, but there are success stories such as Seville Pictures’ release of “Good Bye, Lenin!”

“The market is tough but there’s still room for high-end foreign-language items,” says Seville co-prexy David Reckziegel. “It just has to stick out in the marketplace.”

Local English-lingo films are mostly foundering at the box office (with the notable exception of Odeon Films’ road movie “Going the Distance”), while French-Canadian pics continue to score. For the first nine months of 2004, Quebec films accounted for 13.6% of ticket sales in Quebec, roughly the same level as last year. That’s up from around 5% a few years back. The top Quebec pic so far this year is the comedy “Camping Sauvage,” which grossed C$4.3 million ($3.4 million).

Canada at a glance
B.O.: $547 million*
Top title: “Shrek 2” (DreamWorks, $36 million*)
Recent pickups:
“The Assassination of Richard Nixon” (ThinkFilm)
“Le cou de la girafe” (Christal Films)
“Phil the Alien” (Lions Gate Films, Canada only)
“La premiere fois que j’ai 20 ans” (TVA Films)
“Turtles Can Fly” (Seville Pictures)

Titles at AFM
Eternal: Thriller about a serial killer who is suspected to be linked to a Transylvanian countess who, in search of eternal life, bathed in women’s blood. Recent U.S. theatrical deal struck with Regent Entertainment’s Here! Films. (Horizon Entertainment)
The Far Side of the Moon: Robert Lepage’s French-lingo drama bowed in Canadian cinemas last year but has new momentum after being tapped as Canada’s Oscar submission. Also unspools at AFI Fest. (Max Films)
Spymate: Chimp spy caper by multihyphenate Robert Vince (“Air Bud” franchise). Cast features Chris Potter, Richard Kind and Emma Roberts. Sales so far include U.S., U.K., Japan and Oz. (Keystone Entertainment)

* through September 2004

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