'Lipstick Factor' boosts theatrical box office

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Box office continues to be recession-resilient, as Cineplex Entertainment reported a healthy gain in revenue, attendance and earnings for the first quarter ending March 31, 2009. Canada’s largest exhibitor saw revenues of CA$211 million, up 11.2% from the same time last year. Attendance climbed 9% to 16 million.

Concession sales were also up, especially compelling according to CEO Ellis Jacob, since the quarter saw fewer kid-oriented and snack-friendly movies than early 2008. Slumdog Millionaire and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button were some of the older-skewing titles that were the headliners of the quarter.

At the recent ShowCanada in Montreal, speaker Howard Lichtman, CEO of The Lightning Group, also reported industry results that echoed Cineplex’s, with aggregated revenues up 14% to 16% throughout the industry in the first quarter.

He attributes the rise to the “lipstick factor,” or people’s desire for a small indulgence, just like during the Great Depression when lipstick sales surged. According to Lichtman, going to the movies is that “small treat.” People aren’t going on vacation or buying new cars or homes, but they still want to escape for an hour or two.

Other lipstick-factor indicators are increases in candy, chocolate and ice cream purchases, which may also indicate why theatre concession product sales are way up as well.

Dolan Triumphs at Cannes
Quebec filmmaker Xavier Dolan swept three of four prizes at the Cannes Directors Fortnight with J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother). The 20-year-old’s first feature film won the Art Cinema Award, given by an international jury of independent cinema programmers, and the SACD Prize for best French-language film. He also took home the Regards Jeunes 2009 Prize, given to a first film by a jury of young cinephiles.

The Montreal writer-director wrote and directed the coming-of-age film about a 16-year-old who discovers he is gay and clashes with his mother.

Turned down by Telefilm Canada, Dolan financed the film himself with funds he earned as a child actor. SODEC kicked in money after the film was completed.

Rezo, the film’s distributor, has already sold the picture to Australia, Greece, Turkey, Korea Russia and Albania.

Lantos Prepares Barney’s Version
Canadian producer Robert Lantos has scored again, as his Serendipity Point Films landed a double coup. First, he won the rights to make the film of Canadian literary great Mordecai Richler’s novel Barney’s Version, and then he signed Dustin Hoffman to the cast.

The Oscar-winning actor will star opposite Paul Giamatti as a foul-mouthed retired cop, the father of Giametti’s character Barney Panofsky, an aging writer/producer who reflects on his fast and loose life. Richard J. Lewis is directing from the adapted screenplay by Michael Konyves (Fire & Ice).

Lantos saw Hoffman in The Graduate when he was at university and has fantasized about making a film with him ever since. Filming gets underway August 17 in Rome, with other shooting set for Montreal and New York. Barney’s Version is being produced by Toronto-based Serendipity Point in association with Italy’s Fandango and Montreal’s Lyla Films.

Ontario Supports Starz Studio
The Ontario government injected CA$23 million into Starz Animation to create and preserve jobs at the Toronto studio, which is owned by California-based Starz.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGinty made the announcement with Sir Elton John at his side. John’s partner David Furnish hails from Toronto and through their company Rocket Pictures is producing the computer-animated musical Gnomeo and Juliet, for which Starz is creating the characters.

The money comes from the government’s CA$1.1 billion “Next Generation of Jobs Fund,” which focuses on investing in the digital media sector.

A spoof of the Shakespearean tragedy centered on dueling garden gnome families, Gnomeo and Juliet is directed by Kelly Asbury (Shrek 2) and will feature the voices of James McAvoy (Wanted) and Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada). The film will feature music written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin and will be released by Miramax in 2011.

Starz plans to use the money to beef up studio staff with up-and-coming talent from animation programs at Ontario schools including Sheridan and Seneca Colleges.

E-mail Canadian news items to Adina Lebo at mptac.ca@ca.inter.net.