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Canadian Film Swept Under U.S. Theatrical Rug

Paul Gross (photo by Jenny Buehler)

Good news for U.S. curling fans -- the world's first movie about curling made it to U.S. movie houses the day after its September 19 premiere in Denver, Colo. The bad news? It disappeared as quickly as it arrived, lasting only about a week in theatres.

The U.S. release of Men With Brooms came as something of a surprise, in spite of the film's success in Canada. In a June interview with Crescent Blues, writer/director Paul Gross and producer Robert Lantos commented that U.S. distribution of the film seemed unlikely. Lantos (of Serendipity Point Films) previously shopped the movie around to American companies with little or no positive response. Distributors in the US feared the film's decidedly Canadian tenor -- and the unfamiliar sport at its core -- wouldn't appeal to audiences here.

For those who missed broadcast coverage of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, curling is an ancient Scottish ice sport consisting of two teams of four men each sliding 42-pound granite rocks down a sheet of ice aiming for a "button" or target. Think of it as shuffleboard on ice, but you use brooms to guide the rock by sweeping the ice.

"The United States market is very hard and getting increasingly difficult because the studios keep making larger and larger films and chewing up more and more screens," Gross said. "I'm sure it's dizzyingly exciting to be involved with Spiderman, to clear 200 million [dollars] in 10 days, but it chews up a lot of screens. The number of screens is finite, and it's not the only blockbuster out there. So the number of available screens for smaller pictures gets smaller and smaller, which means the distributors have to know that the films they take on will grab an audience. They have to be able to cut through the din and make someone want to come and see it."

However, the success of Men With Brooms at events like the Seattle International Film Festival as well as promising pre-orders for the DVD apparently convinced Artisan Entertainment to take a chance on a U.S. run. It seemed the perfect time to release a romantic comedy, between the summer blockbuster season and the next installments of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. But the film received no television advertising and little exposure in any media. As a result, it lasted little more than a week in U.S. theaters.

In the year that My Big Fat Greek became a major hit and a former word-of-mouth sleeper, The Full Monty, opened on Broadway, one would expect the highest grossing English language Canadian film in 20 years would garner a larger audience. But sleeper hits need time to build momentum.

DVD: Men with broomsNevertheless, the film may yet find large screen success in Europe. Men With Brooms opened in Norwegian theaters on September 24 in conjunction with the Oslo Cup 2002 curling tournament. The key to "cutting through the din," to use Gross's words, may be better placement in countries more familiar with the sport.

Men With Brooms is scheduled for DVD and VHS release on October 29, 2002.

Click here for "Curling's 104 Funniest Minutes," a review of Men With Brooms by Jenny Buehler.

Click here to for more information on Men With Brooms and director/writer/actor Paul Gross

Jenny Buehler