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Independent Canadian film distributors are accusing Cineplex Entertainment of engaging in unfair competition over the theatre giant’s recent renewal of its distribution agreement with the studio Lionsgate.

Late last year, Cineplex Pictures – the distribution arm of the country’s leading movie theatre chain – quietly extended its distribution partnership with Lionsgate until Dec. 31, 2024. The move came a year after Cineplex made waves in the Canadian film industry by signing a deal that saw Cineplex Pictures distribute Lionsgate’s 2023 slate – including such eventual hits as John Wick: Chapter 4, Saw X and The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes – to Canadian cinemas. These venues included both Cineplex locations and theatres operated by competitors.

The initial 2023 arrangement itself evolved from a 2019 partnership between Lionsgate, Cineplex and the independent Canadian distributor Mongrel Media, in which the three companies worked together to handle the theatrical distribution costs (including marketing, advertising, and print logistics) of Lionsgate titles. Yet after Mongrel dropped out of the equation, Cineplex effectively became both exhibitor and distributor.

In a joint statement released this week, the Canadian Association of Film Distributors and Exporters (CAFDE) – whose members include Elevation Pictures, VVS Films, Mongrel, LevelFilm, Photon Films and Vortex Media – said that the Cineplex-Lionsgate arrangement will “continue to result in a less competitive theatrical environment, with reduced consumer movie choice including Canadian films, as self-dealing could take precedence over market interest.”

CAFDE said that Cineplex, whose 1,600-plus screens across Canada make it the country’s largest theatre operator by a wide margin, uses its “dominance in exhibition to unfairly compete as a distributor,” adding that such an arrangement “also threatens the Canadian production industry, supported by the Department of Canadian Heritage and Telefilm Canada, which relies on Canadian distributors to get Canadian content films made.”

In reply to CAFDE’s concerns, Brad LaDouceur, vice-president and general manager of Cineplex Pictures, said in a statement that, “like all other Canadian distributors, Cineplex Pictures works with all theatres, from large circuits to small independents, to ensure the films it distributes are screened in the best locations for each title. The number one priority is to ensure these films find the right audiences, to create an optimal opportunity for box-office performance.”

Upcoming Lionsgate titles set for release by Cineplex Pictures this year include the drama Ordinary Angels featuring Hilary Swank and Jack Reacher star Alan Ritchson, which opens next week, and the horror film Imaginary, which opens March 8.

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