A woman prays at a crucifix on Apparition Hill in Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
TORONTO – A documentary about the alleged Medjugorje apparitions of the Virgin Mary has been so popular that Cineplex has suspended all future Canadian showings amid reports it is negotiating a traditional movie release.
A distribution deal between Cineplex and the film's distributor might cut out a Catholic non-profit organization that has spent thousands of dollars promoting the film.
The Triumph has been playing in private screenings to sold-out audiences across Canada since the Ave Maria Centre of Peace in Toronto began marketing the documentary in August.
But Cineplex is shutting the doors on auditoriums in eight cities to prevent screenings on the final three Saturdays in November even though organizers have already sold 2,600 tickets, says Henry Kovacic, director of the Ave Maria Centre.
"We feel that what Cineplex is doing is deplorable and appalling corporate behaviour," he said. "The Ave Maria Centre of Peace has spent over $30,000 in marketing this film to people across Canada and it has cost us another $75,000 in rental, licensing, logistical and personnel costs.
"We have hired three new full-time staff just for the movie in addition to our regular staff, and a plethora of dedicated volunteers have helped with this effort."
Victor Pap, managing partner of Little Flower Strategies, said the cancellations are due to the distributor of The Triumph entering into talks with Cineplex to bring the film to theatres through a traditional movie release.
A theatrical release is "date-oriented" and tickets are "sold at theatres and through the box office versus private organizations," such as the Ave Maria Centre, Pap said.
Cineplex, which says it will reschedule the Ave Maria screenings for the new year, refused to confirm that it was seeking a theatrical release of The Triumph.
Cineplex director of communications Mike Langdon said Cineplex rented out space for 15 Ave Maria showings of The Triumph that attracted more than 5,000 people.
Cineplex charged the charity rate (a 50-per-cent discount) for use of auditoriums for Saturday morning showings. Also, said Langdon, Cineplex opened concessions stands, which is not typical for these types of events.
In some cases, Cineplex opened additional theatres at the last minute to accommodate unexpectedly high numbers of ticket holders.
"Because many of the performances of The Triumph have been significantly oversold, we thought it would be better to move those screenings to a time when we know we can accommodate the additional demand," Langdon said.
"We've opened up a number of additional auditoriums when it's been co-ordinated in advance, but it's a challenging process," said Langdon, citing staff requirements, additional licensed copies of the film and other client bookings.
"With these performances, because we have a number of them that have been oversold to date, we feel most comfortable that we're going to provide a good experience by moving them to a time when we can accommodate unpredictable, additional demand."
Kovacic has agreed to reschedule the Nov. 16 screenings to a future date but has asked Cineplex for auditorium space in under-performing theatres on Nov. 23 and 30, offering to pay double for an auditorium rental in the evening because demand for the film is so high.
"They have given us a charitable rate. Their facilities are first rate. They have a fantastic group of local managers," said Kovacic. "We have a good civil relationship, and we want to keep it like that."
The Triumph has been screened privately to "tens of thousands of Canadians" in seven provinces and has been a huge success in Canada, Pap said. He said that is amazing for an independent film.