TORONTO (CP) _ Colm Feore is the star of one of the top-grossing movies in Canadian history, this year’s bilingual cop adventure flick, "Bon Cop, Bad Cop."
Yet the kind of superstardom that would greet his American and Quebecois counterparts in the aftermath of such a huge hit simply doesn’t exist in English Canada, where domestic films nabbed just 1.9 per cent of box office earnings this year.
"What we need is some kind of Canadian star system; we need people to say ‘I know that guy, he’s funny, he’s in that movie? Then I want to see that movie!’ so that suddenly you reach a tipping point where there’s enough critical mass of interest," the energetic Feore, trim in a black blazer and pin-striped shirt, said in a recent interview to promote the DVD release of "Bon Cop."
"If we don’t do that with enough of us, then no one will know and no one will care and no one will come. Because how is it that American movies do so well? They advertise the heck out of them. We’re never going to be able to afford to do that, so we have to do it the hard way _ selling tickets one at a time. From Victoria to St. John’s, we’ll have to start dragging people kicking and screaming into the theatres through the sheer force of our personalities."
Feore isn’t alone in lamenting the difficulties getting Canadians to take in Canadian movies. Wayne Clarkson, head of Telefilm Canada, says 2006 was disappointing despite the huge successes of "Bon Cop" and "Trailer Park Boys: The Movie."
"We had the best of films this year and huge successes, but the overall results were mixed," Clarkson said in a recent interview from Montreal.
"Bon Cop," which grossed almost $13 million, was a big factor in bringing up the domestic share of the English-Canadian box office in 2006 to 1.9 per cent from 1.1 per cent last year.
"Trailer Park Boys" also helped boost the domestic take, Clarkson said. Ricky, Bubbles and Julian broke a record for the biggest three-day opening weekend of any Canadian movie.
But even though the English-Canadian audience increased, the situation was reversed in Quebec, where the domestic box office share slipped to 17.2 per cent from 26 per cent in 2005, a banner year for Quebecois film. That dragged the grand total for the entire country down to a 4.3 per cent share of the box office, down from 5.3 per cent last year.
Steve Gravestock of the Toronto International Film Festival says there’s no need to be alarmed _ the situation in Canada isn’t so different from the scene elsewhere.
"People bemoan this, but we’re not radically different from the way it operates in other countries," he says. "There are very few territories or areas where domestic box office is dominant. Studios dominate everywhere. Even if you take the U.S. _ American independent films aren’t exactly burning up at the box office either, and the vast majority of work in Canada is independent work."
Independent filmmakers don’t have the big bucks of the major movie studios backing them as they promote and market their films _ and that’s a reality for independent producers the world over, he points out.
"It’s hard for them to get into theatres and more difficult for them to build a momentum because studios tend to dominate the landscape. But that doesn’t mean people don’t want to see those films. Audiences are more curious than we give them credit for, and will seek out interesting films."
Clarkson says the year ahead in Canadian film promises to be a good one, with a lot of movies coming out that already have serious buzz.
Sarah Polley’s "Away From Her" is chief among them. The film, Polley’s feature-film directorial debut, is getting its American premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January before its mainstream release in May. Based on an Alice Munro short story, the movie earned rave reviews in September at the Toronto International Film Festival, with stars Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent delivering award-worthy performances.
"Fido," a funny zombie film starring Carrie-Anne Moss and Scottish comic Billy Connolly, comes out in March. It was another Toronto film festival favourite.
The romantic thriller "Silk," from Quebec director Francois Girard, is also slated for release in the year ahead. It’s based on the Alessandro Baricco novel about a 19th-century silkworm merchant from France who travels to Japan, where he starts a forbidden romance with a mysterious woman.
"Fugitive Pieces," based on the acclaimed novel by Canadian Anne Michaels, also has high expectations. It tells the story of a child’s escape from Poland during the Second World War before coming of age in Canada.
And Denys Arcand’s eagerly anticipated "L’Age des Tenebres" is slated for release in 2007.
"I’m an optimist by nature but then, as I look at the films that are going to be released in the coming year, I believe there is real cause for optimism," Clarkson says.
Fans of the two biggest Canadian movies of the year _ "Bon Cop, Bad Cop" and "Trailer Park Boys: The Movie" _ may also have cause for celebration, he adds.
"We’ve not got anything in officially yet but we can say with confidence that there will be, in the not-too-distant future, a ‘Bon Cop Two’ and the Trailer Park Boys will be back again too, I’m sure," he says.
For Feore, promoting the Dec. 19 DVD release of "Bon Cop" has been a pure labour of love. Months after filming wrapped up, the classically trained Feore, who won a Gemini for his bang-on portrayal of Pierre Trudeau in the 2002 CBC miniseries "Trudeau," is still exceedingly proud of the film with its tagline "Shoot first, translate later."
"I don’t get a nickel if we sell one of these," he says. "My interest in this is having people see a Canadian film that is a success on its own terms _ it’s just good, it’s well made and it’s entertaining, and it shows Canada to be the cool and hip place that it is. There’s no magic solution here, but if we can make movies like ‘Bon Cop’ that people want to see, then they will come. If we don’t, then they won’t. No big hairy deal."