A locally produced documentary about B.C.’s Prince of Pot Marc Emery is only playing in one Vancouver cinema.
Citizen Marc is showing in 13 major Canadian cities but not in the city whose cannabis culture is prominently featured in the film.
Despite positive reception, the film struggled to find an audience due to its distributor Capital Motion Picture Group being unable to reach a screening deal with Cineplex, the cinema-chain giant that owns nearly all of the theatres in Vancouver.
When most of Cineplex’s revenue comes from Hollywood blockbusters and its only goal is to fill seats, it is difficult for smaller companies to compete.
“Theatres live and die by the box office,” said Andrew Rendall of Capital Motion Picture Group. It makes the film business very American-centric and unwelcoming for independent filmmakers looking to exhibit their work as well as make a living.
Even the logical sanctuaries of independent or art house theatres are being bought by Cineplex. Leonard Schein, founder of the Vancouver International Film Festival, sold his remaining two theatres, Fifth Avenue and Park, to Cineplex earlier this year.
While they continue to play art and independent films as per their agreement, Cineplex programming ultimately decides what does or doesn’t get shown.
According to Vancouver filmmaker Tony Pantages, Cineplex is buying local theatres and only screening Hollywood productions.
“There are no antitrust laws to prevent a monopoly from happening,” said Pantages.
Capital managed to get a theatre chain, The Landmark, to carry Citizen Marc. But there are no Landmark locations in Vancouver.
In cities like Halifax, where Cineplex owns all the theatres, the film was effectively shut out from those audiences.
Paul Armstrong, producer of award-winning Lawrence & Hollomon was also shut out of Cineplex despite the film’s success. He turned to smaller theatres including The Rio for Vancouver screenings, but ticket sales suffered.
Filmmakers are already turning their attention towards other platforms.
For Citizen Marc, Capital Motion Picture Group is already looking forward, following “hard on the heels of good press buzz” in order to push online distribution or DVD sales where the film might see continued life as a cult hit.