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It's won awards, critical praise and audience adoration wherever it has played. But there's one plum C.R.A.Z.Y. still hasn't got and that's distribution in the all-important U.S. theatrical market.

Yesterday the film's Montreal-based producer was hopeful that situation would change shortly, after C.R.A.Z.Y. tied on the weekend with Tsotsi, a South African feature, for the people's choice award at the 19th-annual American Film Institute Festival in Los Angeles. C.R.A.Z.Y. - the coming-of-age story of a Québécois gay rock-'n'-roller in suburban 1970s Montreal - was one of 127 films screened at the 10-day festival. Its victory was a first for a Canadian feature since the AFI Fest became competitive in 1997.

Pierre Even of Cirrus Communications has been talking with U.S. distributors for more than two months, but so far a deal has proved elusive. This even though the $7-million film, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, is one of the biggest box-office hits ever in Quebec (the French-language version has earned receipts of more than $6-million since its release in late May), scored a triumphant screening at the Venice International Film Festival and won best-Canadian-feature honours at the Toronto International Film Festival as well as people's choice kudos at the Atlantic Film Festival in Halifax.

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"Maybe this [the AFI award]will help us," Even said from his office. "Distributors were wondering if the American public would see themselves in this film. Now, with this people's choice award, they can see ..... it has potential in the U.S. just as it has shown in other territories."

Even if C.R.A.Z.Y. was to finally woo U.S. distribution, it's moot as to whether it would get much screen time before the end of the year. The Oscar deadline is looming and Hollywood is determinedly stuffing American theatres with movies it thinks will appeal to both Thanksgiving and Christmas holidayers as well as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

In late September, Telefilm Canada, which has invested almost $3.5-million in production and marketing assistance in C.R.A.Z.Y., chose the movie as Canada's entry in Oscar's best-foreign-language film category. However, dozens of films from many countries vie to end up on that short-list of five or six films, which will be announced Jan. 31.

Still, a boost from the AFI can only help. Founded in 1967, the AFI is a major player in U.S. film circles, training all sorts of future filmmakers at its campus in Los Angeles as well as preserving and screening classics of the past. In 2000, before the Oscar short-lists were announced, it began what is now an annual tradition of naming the top-10 films of the year. These lists have often been harbingers of Oscar's selections.

Moreover, the institute's festival has been credited with heightening U.S. attention to Canadian offerings: For example, it screened Chris Landreth's short, Ryan, at its 2004 event, winning a "special mention" award there that its producer, the National Film Board of Canada, says set it on the road to Oscar consideration and its eventual win as best short film (animated). Positive reaction, too, to Denys Arcand's The Barbarian Invasions at the 2003 AFI Fest was considered instrumental to its success as best-foreign feature at the 2004 Academy Awards.

Meanwhile, C.R.A.Z.Y. is currently playing, subtitled, in only two English-language theatres in Canada, both in Toronto, where it's enjoyed steady crowds since going into commercial release Oct. 14. "We're playing it off bit by bit as the right theatres come open for it," a spokesman for the movie's Canadian distributor, TVA Films, explained yesterday. It's scheduled to open in Windsor, Ont., this weekend, followed by theatres in Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Waterloo, Ont., and other centres Nov. 25.

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