Hussain Amarshi to head up indie distributors lobby


The challenges facing the Canadian Association of Film Distributors and Exporters (CAFDE) in a fast-changing landscape remain the same: too little screen time for homegrown films on domestic TV screens and at the local multiplex to connect with Canadian audiences.

What’s changed is new leadership focused on renewal for the indie distributors’ lobby group.

Mongrel Media president Hussain Amarshi has now become CAFDE president after Ted East stepped down from that role in September.

Entertainment One’s Patrice Theroux has also left his post as CAFDE chairman, with the indie distribution giant to be represented instead by Patrick Roy, president of Les Films Séville, as CAFDE vice president, and Mark Slone, SVP of acquisitions at eOne, respectively serving as secretary and treasurer.

In addition, CAFDE has retained Crestview Strategy, which already lobbies for eOne, to position itself on the regulatory front in Ottawa before the CRTC, Heritage Canada and others.

“Our desire is to have a unified, strong voice in the marketplace to ensure there is fair play,” Amarshi told Playback about his new role at CAFDE, and its new strategy in the wake of a restructuring.

After a period of rapid industry consolidation and digital transition, Canadian film distributors find themselves at the mercy of three vertically-integrated players in Shaw Media, Bell Media and Rogers Media doing little to showcase homegrown movies outside of pay TV channels.

In Cineplex, they have a Canadian exhibition giant that looks more to Hollywood studio movies than indigenous films to draw audiences.

The irony that the Canadian indie film distribution market is also controlled by one giant, eOne, isn’t lost on Amarshi.

“We do have one larger player, but there’s a number of smaller players and we need to stand out,” he added as Pacific Northwest Pictures and Elevation Films have been added to a CAFDE membership that already includes D Films, Kinosmith, Metropole Films, eOne/Les Films Séville and Mongrel Media.

The indie distributors accept that broadcasters have increasingly replaced Canadian films on their schedules with ongoing series to better retain TV audiences.

But they remind broadcasters and exhibitors that, while operating in a market, they remain tied to industry regulations and pledges.

“It’s not about complaining. It’s monitoring to ensure everyone delivers on what they promised,” Amarshi insisted.

CAFDE will be looking to the CRTC especially to encourage more coin and promotion for homegrown film from the broadcasters.

“Part of getting to air endless shows with the word ‘storage’ in the title, without other entrants competing against them in a meaningful way, is you should have to give back and actually support the culture that underpins our identity as Canadians,” CAFDE’s Mark Slone argued.

Progress on the broadcast front for CAFDE has been hampered by the failture of Starlight, the proposed all-Canadian movie channel, to secure mandatory carriage from the CRTC.

The next steps from CAFDE to make up lost ground will be laid out Friday in Whistler when Amarshi is giving a keynote address to include a call for all industry players, whether from old or new media, to pull together to promote Canadian film.

“My argument is, in a digital world, there’s all kinds of opportunities opening up. We have to step up our game,” he said.