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

A 2002 F350 was stolen from a Whitevale home sometime overnight Jan. 14. (Contributed)
Truck stolen near Lumby overnight

Lifted Ford stolen from Whitevale Road

Nate Brown photo
Okanagan-Shuswap says goodbye sunshine, hello winter

Temperatures are forecasted to drop by mid-next week

The Lavington Community Association shared this image of the final support beam installed at Jeffers Park in 2020. (Lavington Community Association - Instagram)
COVID-19 halts plans to open Lavington ice rink

Skaters won’t be able to enjoy the newly erected roof at Jeffers Park this season

Deb White, carnival chairwoman, rode in on style Saturday during the parade. (Caitlin Clow - Vernon Morning Star)
Pandemic postpones parade, heart of Vernon Winter Carnival

Interior Health says no to one of B.C.’s only winter parades

An elementary school student misplaced their glucose monitoring device for diabetes and his family and teachers are hoping someone maybe picked it up. (Dexcom)
UPDATE: Vernon student’s missing medical device found

Receiver used to monitor diabetes believed left in snowbank at school

Brett Forsythe battles it out in a game of singles pickleball on ice at Okanagan Training Rink Thursday, Jan. 7 in support of the Vernon Food Bank. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Pickleball play hits the ice in Okanagan

Rivals battle it out in support of the food bank

(Big White Ski Resort photo)
13 more cases of COVID-19 tied to Big White Mountain cluster

This brings the total case count to 175, of which 32 cases are active

Harvest Meats is recalling a brand of Polish sausages, shown in a handout photo, due to undercooking that may make them unsafe to eat. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says the recall affects customers in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Northwest Territories, Ontario and Saskatchewan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Canadian Food Inspection Agency Mandatory Credit
Harvest Meats recalls sausages over undercooking

Customers are advised to throw away or return the product

RCMP on scene at a home on Sylvania Cres. (Phil McLachlan /Capital News/FILE)
Two Kelowna men arrested after Rutland home invasion

Two Kelowna men, including a prolific offender, facing slew of potential charges

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
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

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Real estate sales in the South Okanagan grew by more than any other part of the province in 2020. (Marissa Tiel - Black Press)
South Okanagan fastest growing real estate market in B.C.

There was over $1 billion in residential sales in 2020

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The facility in Summerland has 112 long-term care beds. Interior Health funds 75 of the beds. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
Six more months for temporary South Okanagan long-term care facility administrator

The temporary administrator was appointed following site visits and concerns from Interior Health

Most Read