There's nothing like watching a film in a theatre with an audience. It's an experience that stubbornly outstrips all competition - whether it be theme parks, DVD or VHS, computers or even TV. After Sept 11 last year, the theatrical box office boomed and continues to grow throughout the world. People want to go to the movies: that collectiveexperience is everything.
Look, for example, at My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the sleeper hit of the year, which is proving as phenomenally successful in Canada as it has in the US Made at a cost of $5m, the film has no movie stars and very little dramatic conflict. It does, however, give audiences a chance to sit in the dark together and laugh.
US pay-TV giant HBO came up against this very phenomenon when it submitted its drama Real Women Have Curves to the Sundance film festival in January this year. HBO finances and produces its own movies for exclusive showing on the HBO channels and attempts to raise awareness for them with selective festival screenings, not surprising since they hire filmmakers as accomplished as Mira Nair, Bruce Beresford or Mike Nichols.
Real Women, on the other hand, was directed by first-timer Patricia Cardoso and featured a cast whose only "name" was the award-winning character actress Lupe Ontiveros (Chuck & Buck). But audiences at Sundance loved the touching story of an 18-year old Mexican-American girl (America Ferrara) who is trying to break away from her family ties in East Los Angeles. The film's warm and funny portrait of family interaction and culture clashes won it the festival's audience prize, ironic since HBO had no plans to show it to large audiences other than family units cooped up in their living rooms at home.
Between then and Toronto, where the film is screening, a lot has changed. Distributors from around the world pursued Real Women with unflagging ardour to the point where HBO has finally yielded and teamed up with fledgling distributor Newmarket Films to release it in theatres on October 18. It's the ultimate accolade for a film that is too big for the small screen and cries out for the same audiences that warmed themselves up at My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Of course, whether it's Real Women or the latest by Gaspar Noe or Larry Clark, films at the Festival demand (and usually get) a full house to cheer with delight or gasp with indignation. After all, only when we are surrounded by strangers in the dark are we seeing a film as the film-maker intended us to see it.