Saturday, 27 October 2012




By Greg Klymkiw

Moviegoers love the Cineplex Entertainment Mobile App. Not only can you buy tickets, find venues & showtimes, watch trailers & “exclusive” puff pieces on all the big pictures, detailed movie info is available that includes a synopsis and above the line credits. To the left you’ll find phone captures of movie info for two Canadian films: Sarah Polley’s feature documentary “Stories We Tell” & Brandon Cronenberg’s “Antiviral”. Both include synopses. Alas, Cineplex informs us that the Director, Cast, Writers and Producers cannot be identified: “Names Not Available”. To the right you’ll find movie info for two major Hollywood releases, “Paranormal Activity 4” and “Alex Cross”. No lack of Director, Cast, Writer and Producer info. The commitment (as it were) to Canadian Cinema proudly continues. A commitment to take pride in.

Cineplex Entertainment might argue this information hasn’t been provided by the Canadian Distributors (which save for a couple of key exceptions is, admittedly, an oxymoron). While this might indeed be the case, Cineplex could, perhaps, proactively ask the distributors and/or publicists for this information and if this proves unsuccessful, there are plenty of sources where this information is available. One might expect that proactive attempts to supply this information to their customers might not be a problem for the largest exhibitor in Canada – a Canadian company with a virtual exhibition monopoly and the cash flow to do so.

On Dec. 31 of 2011 in my first Annual List of Top Ten Heroes of Canadian Cinema, I included some rather interesting remarks about Cineplex Entertainment's - ahem - commitment to Canadian Cinema: I will reprint it for you now with a few salient additions.

Here it is! Enjoy!

I first saw Don Shebib's classic Canadian feature Goin' Down the Road when I was a kid at a huge first-run theatre in Winnipeg. I loved it then and loved it more every time I saw it. When I heard Shebib had crafted a sequel, I was imbued with a bit of healthy skepticism. That said, I was still excited to see it. I was out of town for the first two weeks of the film's theatrical run at Cineplex's flagship Toronto venue, the Varsity Cinema. When I returned during the film's third week of release, I hightailed it down to the Varsity (not bothering to check the showtimes as is my wont) and was shocked (genuinely) that it wasn't playing. I quickly accessed my iPhone movie listings and was even more distressed that the movie, at least for that evening, was playing absolutely nowhere in Toronto. There was, however, one lone screening the following evening at the Royal cinema, everyone's favourite indie venue in Little Italy. What shocked me even more was that Barbara Willis Sweete's film adaptation of Billy Bishop Goes To War was the other film playing at the Royal the same evening - first run and ENDING!!!

Okay, my fault for being out of town, I guess. Excuse me all to hell for expecting movies with a reasonable pedigree by Canadian standards were (a) not available on any Cineplex screen in the country's largest city and that (b) they were both ending.

No matter, I sashayed on down the next night to The Royal. I really enjoyed Billy Bishop. I first experienced it as a kid in Winnipeg when John Gray and Eric Peterson presented the play at the Manitoba Theatre Centre's Warehouse venue. I loved it then and was delighted to see a film that preserved its theatrical roots. My first thought was, "Hmmm, there are wads upon wads of people my age and older who love this play ALL ACROSS THE COUNTRY. This would have been a perfect film to platform wide in the Front Row Centre Events that Cineplex has been exploiting in big cities and beyond." I played out a release pattern for the film in my mind whilst waiting for the Shebib to begin unspooling at the Royal: Coast-to-coast, hugely hyped one-or-two-shot screenings of the film at the premium Front Row Centre prices. You'd have to blow a decent whack o' dough on advertising, BUT, with the same kind of thought and elbow grease that USED to go into marketing ANY movies (never mind Canadian films), there would be all sorts of alternate advertising venues with far more reasonable ad rates than traditional outlets anyway. As well, there would be an inordinate number of cross-promotions and tie-ins with theatre companies and arts groups across the country. Hell, target theatre schools also - not just including private companies, or even secondary schools, but given that virtually every post-secondary institution has a theatre program, promote the picture there. In any event, my fantasy release of Billy Bishop then included regular screenings one week later in many of the same venues it played at in the Front Row Centre release. Those post-Front-Row screenings may or may not have had numbers to sustain the secondary runs that long, BUT, the important thing is that Canadians would have been able to see the movie on a BIG SCREEN in a COMMUNAL ENVIRONMENT. This, in turn, would have created a far more advantageous bed of hype and anticipation for any number of home entertainment venues.

Alas, the way in which both Billy Bishop and Shebib's sequel were released feels like home penetration was the only real goal.

Whose fault was it?

Well, I'll admit I can't be sure if the film's distributor considered the aforementioned Front Row Centre theatrical penetration idea, nor do I know if they even offered the movie to Cineplex in that format or just the good old-fashioned approach. What I can say is this. SOMEONE should have thought about it and SOMEONE should have committed to playing these and other films in this fashion. In fact, give the success of these types of special event showings in the Cineplex chain, you'd think someone there might have thought about approaching the film's distributor about mounting the films (and others) in this fashion.

Why not make Canadian Cinema an EVENT - to be cherished, celebrated and offered to Canadian audiences within the context of this specialized approach?

Here's the thing. The business has changed for the worst, but it's not impossible to reapply good old fashioned showmanship on both sides of the distribution and exhibition fence. I started my life in this business as both a writer ABOUT movies and then as a film buyer on behalf of independent exhibitors in the late 70s and early 80s. I lived through the "old ways", lamented the shift in delivery and accessibility of product and now I get absolutely livid when I see how complacent and lazy both sides have become.

Down the Road Again was an entirely different story. I loved the picture, but also conceded its theatrical appeal would be limited. Limited, yes - but there is an audience out there that would have loved to see the movie on a big screen. Part of this IS a distribution issue. However, I also think Canada's major exhibitor is shirking its place in creating a proper venue for Canadian cinema. I'm sure they'd argue that their responsibility is to their shareholders. Well, never mind Canadian movies, those shareholders are going to have very little to count on if things don't change in the exhibition industry. And yes, it IS the fault of exhibition - especially within major chains like Cineplex. They offer no real choice. Pure and simple. They rest on the laurels of whatever crap they're handed. (I live for much of the year in a remote rural area. Cineplex has a seven-screen multiplex. All the same movies are locked in there for ages. I can assure you that in the late 70s and early 80s, the small market audiences had FAR more CHOICE in what was available than they do now. And idiotically, it's not that the product is NOT there. There's tons of product. Much of it good and much of it never getting screen time. Yes, having to program and promote such product takes time and effort. Yeah? So? Do it. They call it elbow grease.

As for Canadian product, I will ultimately point an accusatory finger at Cineplex. Every major country outside of North America had or continues to have strict indigenous content quotas. Many of these countries have leaps and bounds on Canada by decades in this respect. Many of these same countries are making indigenous product that appeals to their national audiences and, in many cases, to international audiences. Much of this product isn't of the blockbuster variety, either. It often provides entertainment to niche audiences - theatrically. These audiences exist because efforts had been made in the past to ensure cultural sovereignty. These movies mostly do NOT compete with Hollywood, anyway. In fact, they enhance the viability and attraction to theatrical exhibition period.

I do not propose legislating this anyway. I frankly think it would be good for business if Cineplex undertook a major corporate responsibility in exhibiting Canadian films - EVEN IF THEY LOSE MONEY! Oh horrors! Isn't that horrible? Look, Down the Road Again needed far more marketing and promotion than it got. This is a distribution issue. That said, movies like this will NEVER find a theatrical audience if they are not out there. I personally think a movie like Shebib's sequel DEMANDED being placed in more cinemas across the country and held longer - even at a loss. Take one screen in every bloody multiplex and screen Canadian product exclusively. Take another screen in every bloody multiplex and program product of an indie nature exclusively - booking it, if necessary in a repertory style.

Cineplex is a Canadian company.

Forgive me for thinking Canada is different than our neighbours to the south. We are. We have higher literacy rates, more progressive values AND most of all, we ARE innovators. Cineplex should FORCE themselves to exhibit Canadian films - even at a loss. (I'm sure there are potential tax incentives that can be whipped up for this anyway.) Why, you say, at a loss? Because there could well be a pot at the end of the rainbow. If the product - good, bad, middle of the road - is made available on a consistent basis, audiences might eventually develop a thirst for a certain type of product that speaks to THEM. Look, it's worked everywhere else in the world - out there, beyond the confines of North America.

It was, however, legislated. I say again - why legislate? Cineplex as the most powerful exhibitor in the country should legislate it as cultural policy within their corporate mandate. They could actually become world leaders in this extraordinary move to actively build an audience. More importantly, they could take a leadership role even beyond Canadian product and offer theatrical accessibility to a far wider range of product. This, frankly, is good for Canada, good for foreign product, good for Hollywood, good for AMERICAN independents, good for cinema as the greatest artistic medium of all time and MOST IMPORTANTLY, good for the end-users, the customers, the myriad of movie lovers who have been lured away from the communal experience for many different reasons, but most of all, because of a lack of diversity in programming.

In the meantime, though, let us pause and acknowledge the true heroes of Canadian theatrical exhibition. It sure ain't Cineplex - at least until they consider getting their act together on this front. Canadian product has had a home at all my aforementioned picks for heroism accolades. Alliance Cinemas, the former AMC Theatres (now swallowed up by Cineplex Entertainment to give them a larger monopoly), Independent Canadian Exhibitors (The Royal, Revue, The Mayfair in Ottawa, The Projection Booth East and Central in Toronto, The Magic Lantern Carlton Cinemas in Toronto, The Bloor Hot Docs Theatre in Toronto, The Regina Public Library, the Winnipeg Film Group Cinematheque, Canadian Film Institute, Excentris in Montreal, the Pacific Cinematheque in Vancouver, the Metro Cinema in Edmonton and all the other independent cinemas who make it their pride and joy to screen Canadian cinema). All of them regularly screen Canadian films - both first-run and second. TIFF Bell Lightbox in just over two years has displayed incredible courage and commitment to screening Canadian product theatrically. Even the tiny, fan-run Toronto After Dark Film Festival (TADFF) screened what must be a record number of Canadian genre films (features and shorts) in 2011 and continued the tradition this year. The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) also continues a leadership role in supporting Canadian film - not just with festival screenings, but such important initiatives as the Film Circuit (bringing fine cinema from Canada and the world to rural locales) and their ongoing work archiving and contributing to the restoration of Canadian cinema. Heroes deserving of special mention in the organization include Steve Gravestock who oversees all matters Canuckian, Colin Geddes who does Midnight Madness and selected whack-job stuff in other serctions and the incomparable Julie Lofthouse in the TIFF film reference Library.

Good on TIFF and all the aforementioned, but whose turn it is now? Allow me to quote directly for the Cineplex website:

"Cineplex Inc. ("Cineplex") is the largest motion picture exhibitor in Canada and owns, leases or has a joint-venture interest in 130 theatres with 1,352 screens serving approximately 70 million guests annually. Headquartered in Toronto, Canada, Cineplex operates theatres from British Columbia to Quebec and is the exclusive provider of UltraAVX™ and the largest exhibitor of digital, 3D and IMAX projection technologies in the country. Proudly Canadian and with a workforce of approximately 10,000 employees, the company operates the following top tier brands: Cineplex Odeon, Galaxy, Famous Players, Colossus, Coliseum, SilverCity, Cinema City and Scotiabank Theatres. Cineplex shares trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) under the symbol "CGX"."

Great! Let's see some of the real leadership and innovation that makes so many Canadians proud of Canada. Cineplex declares they're "Proudly Canadian". Great. Let's see it. For real.