QC man fights to return English films to city’s cinemas

Photo: Scott French

Steven Théberge, standing outside Cineplex Place Charest, is fighting to bring original English-language films back to screens in the downtown theatre.


"Bond. James Bond," so goes one of the most iconic phrases in film history. Not only does Steven Théberge prefer to see 007 complete with his signature tuxedo and Walther PPK in Quebec City's theatres, he would also like to hear Daniel Craig's British accent as well. Through letter writing and a Facebook group, Théberge is pressuring Cineplex-Odéon to bring original English-language version films back downtown to Place Charest. Cineplex Odéon executives, meanwhile, have indicated that that might not happen any time soon.

For the fully bilingual Théberge, what is at issue is not the language in which the film appears but the poor quality of the translations used to dub Hollywood films into French. "The translations just aren't the same," he said.

Additionally, he argues, the only remaining downtown cinema, Cineplex Place Charest, is far more accessible to Quebec City residents and tourists alike by foot, bicycle or public transit than other cinemas located in the suburbs, which must be travelled to by car.

Place Charest, meanwhile, has not shown original English-language films since the summer of 2007 when the theatre tested the demand for Anglo flicks by showing them in half of its projection rooms for four weeks. According to Théberge, that provided little time for avid theatre-goers like himself to attend the original version films.

Pat Marshal, the vice-president of communications for Cineplex-Odéon disagreed. "What Cineplex did, in terms of Place Charest, was purchase advertising on newspapers and in radio in addition to the advertising traditionally put forward by the films' distributors." According to Marshal, unlike Cineplex-Odéon's theatre on Boulevard Duplessis, "There is not a demand for English language films at Cineplex Charest."

As evidence against Marshal's claim, Théberge pointed out that there are over 3,800 members of Facebook groups in Quebec City that would like to see films in V.O. (version originale) or VOA (version originale en anglais). These members are most likely spread out across the city, however, and may not be concentrated in the city's downtown.

Stéphanie Bois-Haude, the assistant for programming at the independent theatre, Cinéma Le Clap, said that in her own experience, the movie-going audience is split "50-50" in terms of which version it prefers.

"Some hate seeing a movie with subtitles, while others will not see a film unless it is in the original version with subtitles," she said.

"What is ideal for us is showing a film in its original language with subtitles. That way we get a share of both audiences and everyone is happy," Bois-Haude explained.

This ideal arrangement is not always possible, Bois-Haude indicated, since theatres in Quebec City are at the mercy of distributors who own the films. Sometimes there are simply not enough original English-language films with French subtitles on the market.

Marshal indicated that Cineplex-Odéon and the film distributors negotiate which version of films will be shown where. "Everyone is focused on maximizing the return on their investment ... and so the distributors are wanting to program their films into those theatres where they are going to get the greatest return on their investment."

So is Théberge's fight to return original English-language films to Cineplex Place Charest in vain?

"The opportunity [to show original English version films] may be there. It's not something we make a decision on and it's forever ... we are in constant interaction with our guests or by contacting our guest services, as [Steven Théberge] did," Marshal said.