Okay, having spent a great deal of time in three different countries, and having watched a lot of movies in those countries, I thought it might be interesting to compare their respective film distribution networks. This might not be that interesting, but hey, you can see what's playing in the United States, Canada, and France this week!
Here are the releases for this week, by country:
"The Brothers Bloom" (USA, wide release)
"Drag me to Hell" USA 2009, wide release)
"UP" (USA 2009, wide release)
"Daytime Drinking" (Korea, limited release)
"Munyurangabo" (Rwanda, 2009, limited release)
"Maiden Heist" (USA, 2009, limited release)
So, as you probably know, in the US, "limited release" means that you can't see the movies outside of NYC, L.A., and a few other cities like Chicago. In most areas, multiplexes have a monopoly, and most of them are now owned by the major studios- in this sense, "wide release" means "showing in the multiplexes". However, the movies will likely show up in video stores all around the country in a few months. It is also worth noting that "wide release" films tend to be American-made and foreign films are most often "limited release". We can debate about why that is (the multiplexes versus the audiences as driving it); but the point is that it's different from what you see elsewhere.
Typical American Movie: Shit blows up.
"Drag me to Hell" (USA, 2009)
"UP" (USA, 2009)
"The Brothers Bloom" (USA, 2009)
"Mothers and Daughters" (Canada, 2009, limited release)
"L'Ordre 13139" (Canada 2009, limited release, only being released in Quebec)
"40 is the New 20" (Canada 2009, limited release)
"Carcasses" (Canada 2009, also as far as I can tell, only released in Quebec)
So, you'll notice that "wide release" here means American wide release films, which we get at the same time as they come out in the United States. However, in this case, the term "limited release" is a bit deceptive. Canadian films do get a limited release, so we won't see them in our local multiplex. But, they generally won't come to our video store either! In fact, you can't actually see Canadian films in most parts of Canada!
The irony is that, unlike American independent films, here they're partially funded by the government, and we still have no chance of seeing them if we don't live in Toronto or Montreal. And, if they were shot in Quebec, you won't likely see them released anywhere else in Canada! Lastly, Canadian movies will generally not play anywhere outside of Canada, unless they're from Quebec, in which case they might play in France.
So, the government (in very Canadian style) both pumps money into the industry, while selling it short in the country and outside of the country. There's no real effort made to distribute most of them overseas, unless they were directed by David Cronenberg, Guy Maddin, or Atom Egoyan. And because the multiplexes have a monopoly here too, in most parts of Canada, we're watching wide-release American movies.
Typical Canadian Movie: Shit, you'll never see it anyway, eh.
"Un éclair de génie" (Flash of Genius: USA, 2008)
"Jusqu'en enfer" ("Drag Me to Hell", USA 2009)
"Looking for Eric" (Britain, 2009)
"The Other Man" (Britain, 2009)
"Quelque chose à tu dire" (France, 2009)
"l'Aube du Monde" (France, 2009)
Okay, so what you see here is interesting- in France, there's not as much of a wide release/ limited release distinction. The multiplexes do get the wide release movies, which are generally American, but as I remember it, they also get the bigger French movies. But, everywhere I've been in France has had a small theatre showing the limited release movies, which tend to be French. In fact, there's something of a parallel system across France because the small theatres also get money from the government, so they can compete. In general, I've observed that French teenagers go to the multiplexes to see the American films, and their parents go to the local small theatre to see the French movies.
French movies are partially funded by the government, through the television chains, and through the money made from movies like "Drag me to Hell", which do good business in France. With this funding, there are something like 200 French movies made each year. They don't do as well as films like UP will; but the state gives credits to get them into theatres across the country- usually for about a week, and then they're shown on the television chains. So, you can see them all across France, and maybe in other countries.
Again, the overseas distribution sucks. There's a weird sort of trade imbalance in which about 50% of the films shown in France (and about 90% of the films shown in Canada) are American, while Canadian and French movies generally get no release in the US; not even on DVD. Again, it's not clear if this is due to "free trade" in that Americans won't watch these films, or "monopoly" in that the theatres won't show them.
Typical French movie: Well-to-do Parisians talk about shit, for three hours, while occasionally being naked.
Note however that these distribution systems are fairly characteristic of their respective countries. In the United States, free enterprise rules and the state plays no part in funding or booking movies, with the downside being the large studio/multiplex monopolies that rule in most parts of the country. But, in terms of video, there's still money to be made on foreign movies, so they are accessible! In Canada, the government gives money to make the movies, but plays no part in distribution, and again there are monopolies (particularly Alliance Atlantic) that actually work in tandem with the American monopolies; the result is that the Canadian film industry both sells itself short and is dominated by the American film industry. In France, the government plays a large part in funding and ensuring the distribution of movies, so across the country, the multiplexes form a parallel system with the state-backed theatres, and can't gain a full monopoly, largely due to state intervention. I will note that the really lousy French movies still get that week-long release and showings on TV, and not speculate as to if that's a good or a bad thing!
Note that I'm not an expert on this, so there might be mistakes here. But, it's interesting to me how these film industries mirror other industries in their respective countries.