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

Homalco First Nation said that it will intervene in the judicial review sought by aquaculture companies with regards to federal decision to phase out 19 Discovery Island fish farms by 2022. In this picture from Sept. 24, a demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver.(Quinn Bender photo)
Aquaculture companies’ judicial review challenges reconciliation and Aboriginal Rights: First Nations

Homalco First Nation chief reacts to Mowi and Cermaq intervention in Discovery Island decision

Oyster River Fire Rescue members were called out to a suspicious fire in Black Creek. Two vehicles parked at a private residence were destroyed by fire. Photo courtesy Oyster River Fire Rescue
Suspicious fire destroys two vehicles at Black Creek residence

Oyster River Fire Rescue personnel were dispatched to a fire at a… Continue reading

CSWM will be closing the landfill in Campbell River and opening the organics composting facility in 2022. In the meantime, the City of Campbell River was hoping for a break on yard waste drop-off for residents. Black Press file photo
Comox Strathcona waste board upholds yard waste drop-off fee

Campbell River had hoped for waiver until new organics facility opens

An Atlantic salmon is seen during a Department of Fisheries and Oceans fish health audit at a fish farm near Campbell River, B.C. in 2018. Mowi Canada has applied to the Federal Court of Canada for a judicial review of the decision by Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan to phase out salmon farming in the Discovery Islands by June, 2022. (Canadian Press/Jonathan Hayward photo)
Major B.C. salmon farms seek court intervention in Discovery Islands ban

Fisheries minister is phasing out operations in the area by June 2022

An Atlantic salmon is seen during a Department of Fisheries and Oceans fish health audit at the Okisollo fish farm near Campbell River, B.C. on Oct. 31, 2018. Several Vancouver Island mayors and members of British Columbia’s salmon farming industry say a federal decision to phase out fish farming has left them feeling “disposable and discarded.” In a letter to Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan, they say they weren’t consulted before she announced a plan to phase out open-net pen fish farming in the Discovery Islands over the next 18 months. THE CANADIAN PRESS /Jonathan Hayward
Strathcona Regional District pens letter to Trudeau about fish farm closure

Minister Jordan, MLA Babchuk and MP Blaney also included in letter

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Vancouver Canucks’ Travis Hamonic grabs Montreal Canadiens’ Josh Anderson by the face during first period NHL action in Vancouver, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horvat scores winner as Canucks dump Habs 6-5 in shootout thriller

Vancouver and Montreal clash again Thursday night

A suspect has been arrested in connection with fires at Drinkwater Elementary (pictured) and École Mount Prevost. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Arson suspect arrested after fires at Cowichan Valley schools

Drinkwater Elementary and Mount Prevost schools hit within a week

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

Nanaimo RCMP are seeking the public’s help after a man allegedly assaulted a clerk at James General Store on Victoria Road on Jan. 18. (Submitted photo)
Suspect screams at customer then assaults store clerk in Nanaimo

RCMP asking for information about Jan. 18 incident at James General Store

Chartwell Malaspina Care Residence in Nanaimo. (News Bulletin file photo)
Two Nanaimo care-home residents have died during COVID-19 outbreak

Death reported Monday was the second related to Chartwell Malaspina outbreak, says Island Health

Rod Bitten of Union Bay won $500,000 in the Lotto Max draw on Jan. 15. Photo supplied
Vancouver Island electrician gets shocking surprise with $500K Extra win

Rod Bitten has been hard at work with home renovations, which is… Continue reading

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Most Read