This article was originally published in 2012
René Malo says his epoch-defining film The Decline of the American Empire is representative of the career accomplishments of which he is most proud.
And his accomplishments are many. In addition to producing 26 feature films and distributing nearly 1,600 over a 40-year career, he has played an instrumental, if often behind-the-scenes, role in the emergence of the Canadian film industry we know today.
He tirelessly defended the Canadian cultural autonomy in the audiovisual sector, allowing it to have as free a hand as possible in distributing indigenous films but also being able to access internationally-made independent movies. He also helped with the establishment of Telefilm Canada’s feature film and distribution funds.
As well, he pushed for the implementation of the film tax-credit regimen not only in Quebec but also at the national level.
Malo produced The Decline of the American Empire in association with the National Film Board, where it was first developed. Broad producer Roger Frappier had asked five writer-directors to write scripts on “whatever they want,” recalls Malo. One of those writer-directors was Denys Arcand.
“Denys came with that story of having eight university teachers talking about sex around the table. It was supposed to be shot with a very small budget in 16mm, but Roger came to me and said, ‘René, read that and tell me what you think, because maybe we can do something bigger,’” Malo continues.
They would indeed do something bigger. After shortening the script – but keeping in its revolutionary and startlingly realistic discussions of complicated sex lives – and changing the ending, and rising to the ever-present financing challenge, the film set box office records in Quebec, netting $2.7 million at the Canadian box office and as much as $30 million worldwide.
Winning nine Genies, it was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and received the International Critic’s Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
The success of the 1986 film, both domestically and internationally, signified for Malo both a strategic change in his business model, and was indicative of his dedication to being a producer and distributor.
“I worked really hard for two years after the movie was finished. I took care of the film, as a little baby, in every country. I tried to find a distributor that I thought would be the best one – it was not just a question of money. I had countries where I was offered maybe more money, but I knew the distribution of the film would not be done in the best way for the picture.
“The work of a producer is not to only make the picture. The life of a picture is many years, and you cannot just make a picture and bye-bye, give it to your distributor. It’s very important that you are there to care about it and to get involved.”
At the time of the film’s release, Malo had already produced several films, and was helming Malofilm Distribution, which he founded in 1973. The year 1983 was the turning point in the producer/distributor’s business when he reinforced his position in acquiring two of the most important independent Canadian distributors, Mutual Films and New World Mutual Films of Canada.
A company reorganization in 1987 gave birth to Malofilm Group, composed of Malofilm Distribution, Malofilm Production, Malofilm Video. In November of 1993, all these Canadian banners were under the public company Malofilm Communications.
As well, on the back of that successful international strategy he established Image Organization with producer Pierre David and Nelvana in 1987, a company to focused on selling, marketing and promoting Canadian films in foreign markets.
In recent years, Malo has focused on the René Malo Foundation, devoting his efforts to cultural and arts initiatives for youth in Quebec and Canada. He continues to produce, focusing on projects that reflect his humanitarian interests, such as the upcoming film project in the works on Craig Kielberger and Free the Children.