Whistler ’14: Media concentration holding back Canadian film on VOD

"We know people are hungry to consume movies in this window. But in this country, it doesn't work," former Alliance Films head Victor Loewy (pictured) told a panel on indie film.
Victor Loewy

Technology has eased the challenge of making indie films, but getting them seen is quite another challenge, Tom Bernard, co-president and co-founder of Sony Picture Classics, told the Whistler Film Festival.

“It’s the best time for a movie to be seen somewhere,” Bernard told a panel on indie films in the digital age.

But not in Canada, said fellow panelist Victor Loewy, former chairman and CEO of Alliance Films. He distinguished between the challenge of making quality indie films and the increasing challenge for film financiers, in Canada and elsewhere in the world market, to recoup their investment.

“I think this year it’s probably been one of the best years for independent movies that I’ve experienced in 40 years,” Loewy said.

Those indie gems are coming from the international market, and micro-budget filmmakers, the audience heard.

“And the quality is unbelievable, and that’s first and foremost what runs our business,” Loewy said.

In the U.S. markets, the major studios have got out of the dramatic indie movie business to make effects-driven tentpoles instead for the world market. That’s left a host of indie financiers like Megan Ellison, Teddy Schwartzman’s Black Bear Pictures –  an investor in Elevation Pictures – and Gigi Pritzker of OddLot Entertainment, all scions of wealthy families, to take big bets on the indie film business.

“They have chosen well and have had some hits and they didn’t lose their money which everyone expected to happen,” Loewy told the Whistler panel.

In part, multi-platform distribution and the promise of VOD/theatrical day-and-date releasing of films is underpinning the U.S. indie film sector. But not in Canada, where media concentration is a drag on innovation, Loewy argued.

“Most of the media is monopolistic. There’s very few owners that own everything. The VOD business is peanuts. And they control the internet pipeline and so control the BDUs,” he said.

Loewy pointed to Telus’ Optik TV service taking market share away from Shaw Communications in western Canada to underline how new distribution models are making inroads, but not nearly fast enough.

“We know people are hungry to consume movies in this [VOD] window. But in this country, it doesn’t work,” Loewy said.