France Film

Distribution first
In 1930, Robert Hurel founded the Compagnie cinématographique canadienne (France-Film) with the purpose of distributing French cinema in Canada. Initially, on 23 August of that year, he announced the distribution of some thirty French films. Joseph Cardinal, who rented the Théâtre Saint-Denis in Montreal, benefited greatly from these new films. Two weeks after Hurel’s announcement, to accompany the screening of Robert Florey’s La route est belle, the Saint-Denis presented a filmed interview with the government minister Athanase David with a view to promoting the distribution of French cinema in Quebec by France-Film.

And then a chain of movie theatres
Hurley, however, did not wish to restrict France-Film to film distribution. In February 1931, he purchased the Roxy cinema on Ste. Catherine St. West in Montreal, renaming it the Cinéma de Paris. Soon there would also be a Cinéma de Paris in Trois-Rivières, Quebec City and Sherbrooke. This was the embryo of a chain that would continue to grow over the years. Hurel also hired the journalist Henri Letondal to implement the best possible advertising strategies.

To promote the growth of his chain, Hurel decided to organise a “French talking film congress” on 29 July 1931 to bring his exhibitors together and put them in touch with various French-Canadian public figures, including Pamphile-Réal Du Tremblay, head of the newspaper La Presse. At the closing banquet, the French consul-general, presiding over the event, remarked: “Exhibitors of French films should tell themselves that by distributing French-language films in this province they are carrying out a patriotic act. They are using a brilliant weapon to battle the overrunning of the popular classes by Americanism”. Hurel was already celebrating the fact that forty-five movie theatres throughout Quebec were regularly screening the films he supplied. These congresses were held until 1936.

Towards a monopoly
By early 1934, with the help of a major investment from Alban Janin, a rich construction entrepreneur, the company had grown. This enabled Hurel, in September of that year, to take over J.A. DeSève’s Franco-Canada films. France-Film now held a virtual monopoly in the distribution of French-language cinema.

France-Film’s success was not seriously jeopardised by the war. Although the company lacked films for its theatres and some of them were forced to close, those which also offered vaudeville shows and melodrama (such as the Arcade and the Théâtre National) had no shortage of customers. The Saint-Denis offered concerts in its down times. The end of the war brought with it a return to prosperity, because European film production had not come to a halt and there were many new films to distribute.

J.A. DeSève took over as owner of France-Film in 1948. In the early 1950s he had secured the distribution rights to all Quebec film production, and the company made huge profits, made even greater by the fact that these films were shown in its own movie theatres.
After experiencing some ups and downs, France-Film continued to advance until the mid-1970s, when it was run by Georges Arpin. In the 1980s it sold its movie theatres, with the exception of the Saint-Denis. Its other activities were taken over by its subsidiary Les films Équinoxe.