First Weekend Club gives Canadian flicks a fighting chance

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      Out of the 10 highest-grossing Canadian movies of 2006, only one—Bon Cop, Bad Cop—made the top 10 once Hollywood films were factored in. And although it’s the highest-grossing Canadian film ever, it still ranks as 2006’s number 10 with $11.9 million, well below what The Da Vinci Code ($28 million) or Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest ($43 million) made in Canada.

      Yet even when Canadian films do big box-office, they often don’t get the same theatre longevity as American films. Don’t broach this subject if you don’t want to rile Anita Adams. As executive director of the Vancouver-based First Weekend Club (www.firstweekendclub.ca/), an organization created to help boost Canadian films during their crucial opening weekends, she finds it “appalling” that Canadian films don’t have the same opportunities in our own theatres. “My biggest problem with the system is that it’s not an even playing field,” she says in a phone interview. “The idea is that if a film does well in those first three days at the box office, it will stay in theatres longer.”¦However, that’s not the case. If a film does well but it’s playing at the same time as a big studio release, and if that Canadian film outperforms one of these studio releases, it’s still more likely that the Canadian film is going to get the boot because there’s an allegiance with the studios. Because they have made a deal that their film has to be in their theatre for X amount of time regardless of how it does.”

      Consequently, Adams launched FWC in 2003 to help give Canadian films a fighting chance by organizing special events and awareness campaigns. “We just don’t have the same marketing budgets or machines behind the Canadian films,” Adams says. FWC currently has about 10,000 members across Canada (membership is free); their volunteer database has about 60 people. Sponsors include Telefilm Canada and the Union of B.C. Performers. Its “really powerful board of directors” includes Paul Gratton, vice-president of Entertainment Specialty Channels for CHUM Television, and writer-director Carl Bessai; and its advisory board enlists Cam Haynes, director of the Toronto Film Festival Film Circuit, and Michael Kennedy, executive vice-president of Cineplex Galaxy Theatres. Adams got the idea from an African-American organization with a similar name that was designed to promote African- American films. At first the idea took off in our city, but soon it spread nationwide, with chapters taking root in cities from Victoria to Toronto.

      Adams says the FWC’s impact can be measured by its promotion of films like Eve & the Fire Horse or ScaredSacred on their respective second weekends, where they each took in more money than on their first.

      Season three of FWC’s Canada Screens monthly screening series starts Sunday (February 4) at the Vancity Theatre (on the first Sunday of every month) with the Genie-nominated The Rocket, about the rise of Maurice Richard in the NHL, and follows up on March 4 with the Oscar-nominated (best foreign film) Water, about a nine-year-old Indian widow sent to a Hindu “widow house”. Both screenings are scheduled close to the awards shows the films are nominated for, but Adams didn’t plan it that way; she calls it “dumb luck”. With all the hard work she’s been doing, however, it could be good karma.

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