Cineworld Group PLC has agreed to buy Cineplex Inc., in a Dec. 16, 2019 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Cineworld Group PLC has agreed to buy Cineplex Inc., in a Dec. 16, 2019 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canadian filmmakers worry Cineplex takeover signals new hurdles ahead

International distribution agreements could squeeze out the thinning number of Canadian distributors

Titus Heckel wants Canadians to see his next film “Chained” on the big screen, but the director fears a looming takeover of Cineplex Inc. might stamp out those lofty ambitions.

Landing a nationwide theatrical release for his Canadian crime-thriller was always a long shot, since few homegrown films get such a massive platform. But if the country’s biggest film exhibitor is sold to global powerhouse Cineworld, some in the domestic film industry worry Canadian cinema may lose a valuable avenue to audiences.

“It’s already so difficult,” the Vancouver-based filmmaker said of the struggle for meaningful Canadian distribution and support from exhibitors.

“It’s like adding another 100-pound weight onto a 1,000-pound weight.”

Beyond the financial details of Cineworld’s $2.8-billion offer to buy Cineplex, announced this week, Canadian film producers say there’s another conversation they’re still trying to comprehend: how deeply the acquisition could ripple through the local film market, affecting everyone from creators to distributors.

Cineworld’s chief executive Mooky Greidinger emphasized in a call with investors on Monday that “scale matters” for the U.K.-based company as it negotiates deals with Hollywood studios. That means he’s interested in leveraging his company’s strength to broker agreements for Marvel superhero movies and other huge blockbuster franchises that would play on Canadian screens, at its U.S. chain Regal and other brands it owns in Ireland, Israel and across Europe.

Those international distribution agreements could squeeze out the thinning number of Canadian distributors, including Elevation Pictures, which owns the domestic rights to mid-size films that include ”Hustlers” and “Midsommar,” and plays an instrumental role in Canadian-made projects, such as the upcoming “American Woman” and “Blood Quantum.”’

READ MORE: U.K. company to buy Cineplex, Canada’s largest theatre chain, for $2.8B

Greidinger didn’t address how wide-release Canadian productions, which in the past included the Inuit lacrosse drama “The Grizzlies” and hockey comedy “Goon: Last of the Enforcers,” would factor into his business model, nor how Cineworld would handle the Quebec market where French-language cinema is a major part of the cultural landscape.

Representatives for Cineworld did not return requests for comment. Cineplex is in a seven-week period that allows it to solicit, evaluate and negotiate other acquisition offers from third parties, which could include a Canadian buyer.

On Tuesday, a group of independent Quebec movie theatres lambasted the Cineplex acquisition in a statement that called on Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault and provincial Culture Minister Nathalie Roy, to “vigorously” defend the country’s cultural industries from outside influence.

“We must take all available means to prevent foreign content from suffocating our domestic film production,” said the group of signatories, which included Mario Fortin, who oversees three Montreal independent cinemas.

“Going to the movies is the most important leisure activity for Quebecers and Canadians. Are we going to let a foreign multinational decide which films we are going to see? Are we going to leave it to Cineworld Group to decide the future of our cinema?”

The head of the union representing Canadian performers said that while Cineplex, which represents 75 per cent of the nationwide market, hasn’t always wholeheartedly supported Canadian films on its screens, they’ve offered a valuable outlet in a changing entertainment industry. He said while the streaming boom has led to an uptick in domestic production led by Netflix, that hasn’t necessarily done much to amplify Canadian representation on those U.S.-owned platforms.

“Where the streaming services are failing us is actually telling Canadian stories,” said David Sparrow, president of ACTRA.

“Canadian writers aren’t being employed to the same degree because the streaming services are focusing largely on American content.”

Ron Mann, co-founder of independent distributor Films We Like, said he’s already lost confidence in Canada’s exhibitors and doesn’t predict any positive change if Cineworld steps into the market.

The Hollywood monoculture has already swallowed up the interests of most independent theatres, he said, pointing to the recent opening of Toronto’s Paradise theatre, which he hoped would aspire to the art-house footprint of New York’s Film Forum or Metrograph, which prioritize indie and foreign films. Instead, he said programmers at Paradise are leaning heavily on “silly” comedies such as “Wayne’s World” and “Uncle Buck.”

“(Most exhibitors) want to sell alcohol and charge $10 for butter-layered popcorn… It’s just a horrible experience. You have to wait for 30 minutes to see your movie after all the trailers. That’s how they make their money,” Mann said.

“We’re cinephiles. We’ve lost the war, but that doesn’t mean we’re on the wrong side.”

Vancouver filmmaker Warren Sulatycky suggests it’s time federal leaders seriously consider imposing a screen quota system that could bolster the local film market against the perceived cultural threat of Hollywood. It’s a concept that’s been used in many countries, including France, South Korea and Spain, to ensure local stories are given space, though critics question the concept’s success.

Screen quotas might’ve helped elevate awareness for his independent film “April in Autumn,” which played in four independent Canadian theatres earlier this fall after Cineplex rejected his application to show it on their screens. He released the film using a roadshow model where he travelled to each city where it played.

“It was so hard to get into theatres — to get any time — in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary or Montreal,” Sulatycky said.

“And it’s going to be harder now.”

David Friend, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

santa.
Morning Start: Santa Claus has an official pilot’s license

Your morning start for Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020

A woman wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 uses walking sticks while walking up a hill, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Interior Health reports 83 more COVID-19 infections overnight

46 cases are now associated with a COVID-19 community cluster in Revelstoke

Mona Fortier, Minister of Middle Class Prosperity, speaks with North Okanagan-Shuswap MP Mel Arnold during a Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce breakfast Monday, March 2 at Eatology. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Despite $381.6 B deficit, better days are coming: Minister of Middle-Class Prosperity

“We want Canadians to know that we’ve got their backs”

Members of the Swansea Point Fire Department will be out with their trucks collecting food items on December 13. (CSRD photo)
Rural Shuswap fire departments gearing up for food banks

Food drives are planned in Silver Creek, White Lake and other communities

grapes.
Morning Start: Grapes light on fire in the microwave

Your morning start for Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020

A tongue-in-cheek message about wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 on a sign outside a church near Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection count climbs back up to 656

20 more people in hospital, active cases still rising

A man stands in the window of an upper floor condo in Vancouver on March 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Change made to insurance for B.C. condo owners amid rising premiums

Council CEO Janet Sinclair says the change will mean less price volatility

The Walking Curriculum gets students outside and connecting with nature. (Amanda Peterson/Special to S.F. Examiner)
‘Walking Curriculum’ crafted by SFU professor surges in popularity

The outdoor curriculum encourages students to connect with the natural world

Brent Ross poses with his dog Jack who died over the weekend after asphyxiating on a ball. Ross hopes his experience serves as a cautionary tale to other dog owners. (Contributed)
Salmon Arm man warns others after dog dies from choking on a ball

Brent Ross grieving the sudden loss of Jack, a healthy, seven-year-old chocolate lab

This year’s Candlelight Vigil, United Against Violence Against Women, on Dec. 6, 2020 will not be in person at the campuses of Okanagan College due to COVID-19, but people will be able to gather online to watch a video presentation and light a candle in remembrance. (Image contributed)
Violence against women in North Okanagan-Shuswap to be remembered online

Participants in virtual vigil Dec. 6 asked to light a candle and post photo on social media

Mayor Colin Basran at the announcement of the 2021 Tim Horton’s Brier to be hosted in Kelowna on Nov. 21. (Contributed)
Tim Hortons Brier not coming to Kelowna

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted Curling Canada to move to hub model, similar to the NHL playoffs

An Enderby restaurant and pub has been shut down since Sunday afternoon, Nov. 29, 2020 as a precaution after a guest reportedly tested positive for COVID-19. (Howard Johnson photo)
Enderby pub shuts down after guest reportedly tests positive for COVID-19

The Howard Johnson hotel, restaurant and pub has been closed since Sunday afternoon, Nov. 29

Robert Gibson, born November 24, 2020 is in BC Children’s Hospital. Photo contributed
Princeton baby fights for his life, with parents at his side

A Go Fund Me campaign has been started to help family with expenses

Most Read