In recent years, major Canadian cities have seen the demise of many long-standing single-screen movie houses. In quick succession, Vancouver lost the Hollywood, Denman and Ridge theatres. In Burnaby, Surrey, Victoria and Kelowna, still more marquee lights were permanently switched off, suggesting a trend alarming to movie-lovers: British Columbia is losing its historic cinemas.
Curtis and Silmara Emde, a Vancouver-based husband and wife photography and video production team, started documenting this transitional period through a series of articles, photography exhibits and short-form videos.
They discovered that the switch from traditional 35mm film to digital projection was a major factor in many of the recent closings. The costs of digital conversion was prohibitive for independent venues already struggling with dwindling audiences and diminishing box office returns.
And yet, some theatres in our smaller cities and towns managed the outlay for new equipment and are thriving. Furthermore, Nelson’s Civic Theatre, which had been closed, was successfully re-opened.
It seems that something beyond the switch to digital projection was keeping these cinemas of the southern interior going. But what, exactly?
To find out, Silmara and Curtis hit the road, travelling through the Kootenay, Okanagan, Boundary, Columbia Valley and Shuswap regions to make a documentary that would seek to answer some key questions: what makes cinemas in smaller communities succeed? And how fragile is this success, given that several of these theatres of the interior are currently for sale?
According to Curtis, the couple wanted, first and foremost, to “tip our hats” to the province’s independent theatre operators – the people who preserve the heritage of the buildings themselves while also deftly dealing with movie distributors and capricious Hollywood studios to keep their communities entertained. The stories of these dedicated theatre owners and managers, as told to Curtis and Silmara in lobbies, concession areas, auditoriums and projection booths throughout the southern interior, are personal and unvarnished; often celebratory, frequently funny, sometimes sad – but, as Silmara adds, “always real, and always rooted in the community.”
Out of the Interior encourages viewers to reflect on the value of public screen entertainment in an era in which watching stories unfold in the dark with strangers may seem – to many nowadays – a nostalgic relic of the 20th century movie industry. The Emdes’ documentary shows us that while its survival is by no means assured, the collective moviegoing experience is still both valuable and viable.
The filmmakers delve into the history of public film exhibition in our province, celebrate the communal moviegoing experience in the present – and offer a glimpse of the movie house’s future in the digital age.
Out of the Interior will play at the GEM Theatre in Grand Forks on Tuesday, September 19, at the Civic Theatre in Nelson on Saturday, September 23, and at Trail's Royal Theatre on Monday, September 25. This documentary is a fully independent, made-in-BC effort and suitable for all ages.