Hyena Road, the new Canadians-in-Afghanistan war drama, scored the biggest opening of any Canadian film of the year last weekend, bringing in $486,000 at the box office.
The distribution company Elevation Pictures said the film, written and directed by Paul Gross and starring Gross with Allan Hawco, Rossif Sutherland and Christine Horne, performed especially well in the prairie provinces and Eastern Canada.
Gross hails from Calgary. He has strong ties to the Canadian Forces – members of his family served in the military – and Hyena Road has been endorsed by some high-ranking officials, including Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie and Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire. Canadian critics were also supportive of the film's ground-level view of the morally grey Afghanistan battlefield.
"We're quite pleased," said Naveen Prasad, the executive vice-president and general manager of Elevation. He noted that ticket sales for the film dropped only 9 per cent from Thanksgiving Monday to Tuesday, which may augur well for sustained business. "It goes to show that people wanted to see the film, but they weren't rushing out."
The film will remain for at least this weekend in the 184 locations where it opened, marking an unusual level of support for a Canadian film by domestic exhibitors, who tend to favour heavily marketed Hollywood product.
Prasad noted the entire Canadian theatrical box office was down across the board while the Toronto Blue Jays were playing last weekend, as well as on Wednesday night, when the team defeated the Texas Rangers in the final game of the American League Division Series.
"Whenever there was a game, there was a definite decrease in theatre audience," he said, suggesting the team's continuing good fortunes might put a dent in the film's overall performance.
Still, he suggested that the strong theatrical opening positions Hyena Road well for a video-on-demand run, and would likely increase viewership when it appears on the pay-TV channels TMN and Movie Central. The film has also been sold to CBC-TV.
"This is a Canadian film that now has huge awareness, which will play out for the life of the film," he said.
The Canadian box office is gearing up for a particularly crowded season, with the release this weekend of Deepa Mehta's Beeba Boys, and both Atom Egoyan's Remember and the TIFF crowd-pleaser Room opening next weekend
Prasad estimated Hyena Road would finish its theatrical run with about $1.5-million. Gross's previous war movie, Passchendaele, earned $4.4-million at the box office.