Vivafilm takes on Hollywood holidays

Hollywood blockbusters and Oscar hopefuls flood theaters over the holidays, which makes it a risky time to release smaller, homegrown fare on the big screen - except in Quebec, where taking on the major studios has become a tradition.

Hollywood blockbusters and Oscar hopefuls flood theaters over the holidays, which makes it a risky time to release smaller, homegrown fare on the big screen – except in Quebec, where taking on the major studios has become a tradition.

This year is no different, and will see Alliance Atlantis Vivafilm release Yves Desgagnés’ Roméo et Juliette – from Cinémaginaire producers Denise Robert and Daniel Louis – in more than 75 Quebec theaters on Dec. 15. That puts it opposite The Pursuit of Happyness, starring Will Smith, the new Charlotte’s Web from Paramount and the fantasy adventure Eragon. The Ben Stiller fantasy comedy Night at the Museum opens the following Wednesday, Dec. 20.

‘We always try to release a big Quebec film at Christmas and another one in the summer,’ says Vivafilm president Patrick Roy. ‘These important periods for movie releases were always used only by the American movies, and it’s something we’ve changed and I think it’s one of the reasons Quebec movies are doing well now. We were not hesitant to go in busy periods.’

Case in point, the partly French Bon Cop, Bad Cop, released through Vivafilm and Motion Picture Distribution in English Canada, crossed the $12-million mark earlier this month, cementing its position as the highest-grossing Canadian film of all time.

Roméo et Juliette is, of course, a retelling of the Shakespearean romance set in present-day Quebec and stars newcomers Thomas Lalonde and Charlotte Aubin as the star-crossed lovers.

Its main target audience is teenagers, and Vivafilm has looked to partners such as CHUM’s MusiquePlus to build its promotional and advertising campaign.

‘Targeting young adults and teenagers is something new and something we want to develop more and more,’ says Roy. ‘Teenagers go see many films, and it’s important that they go see Quebec movies also. I think it’s important to create new customers for our movies.’

Last year, two major Quebec titles hit theaters looking to attract holiday audiences – Maurice Richard from Vivafilm and Les Boys 4 from Christal Films. Both went on to gross more than $4 million despite heavy competition from Hollywood including Peter Jackson’s King Kong.

In the English market, holiday releases can be a bit more of a gamble.

‘If you’re going to go in December, you have to go with a really solid movie. If it’s not good it will not stay very long,’ says Frank Mendicino, VP of marketing and promotion for MPD.

Mendicino is confident, however, that this holiday season is the right time to release Marc Evans’ Snow Cake, and not just because Christmas plays a role in the film.

‘It’s a really heartwarming drama/comedy and they do well at Christmas,’ says Mendicino. ‘It’s the kind of stuff you want out at Christmas because people are all very sensitive during the holidays.’

The Canada/U.K. copro, shot here by Rhombus Media and Revolution Films of London, is about the odd relationship between a man and an autistic woman in rural Ontario and stars Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman.

It opens in select markets Dec. 15 and will expand on Christmas Day. Mendicino hopes the strategy will build momentum and word of mouth.

MPD is currently developing a national promotion campaign with Roots Canada and will also host a benefit for Autism Ontario, which Rickman will attend.

Mendicino is not concerned about competition from Hollywood because, he says, Snow Cake is not after the same audience.

Another homegrown title to watch is The Hamster Cage by Larry Kent, which makes its theatrical premiere on one Toronto screen on Dec. 1 through boutique distributor Capri Releasing. It opens opposite The Nativity Story and the slasher horror Turistas.