A new documentary about the struggle of small town cinema might be just the ticket to fill more seats in these quaint and historic venues - like the Royal Theatre in Trail. Monday (Sept. 25) at 5 p.m. the Royal Theatre is screening, “Out of the Interior; Survival of the small-town cinema in British Columbia,” and theatre owner Lisa Milne encourages locals to come and show support. (Sheri Regnier photo)

Royal Theatre among cinemas featured in doc

Community encouraged to see small town cinema documentary Monday in Trail

A new documentary about the struggle of small town cinema might be just the ticket to fill more seats in these quaint and historic venues – like the Royal Theatre in Trail.

Monday at 5 p.m. the Royal Theatre is screening, “Out of the Interior; Survival of the small-town cinema in British Columbia,” and theatre owner Lisa Milne encourages locals to come and show support.

“This movie is really special and helps portray how awesome small town movie theatres are,” Milne told the Trail Times. “The filmmakers, Curtis and Silmara Emde, are so passionate about this project and keeping small town cinema alive … They made their trek to the Kootenays in the summer of 2016 and interviewed myself, and filmed for a full day within the Royal.”

Milne says that global box office attendance fell an historical 14 per cent this past summer, and the Royal Theatre was hit hard by the downturn as well.

The Emdes are passionate about portraying the importance of small town theatres and their value to the community, she said.

“It was a perfect opportunity for us at the Royal to partake in this documentary as we have learned firsthand what it takes to operate such an important part of community history.”

They talked about today’s cinema challenges like the struggle with studios to be more adaptable to trends such as online downloading, Netflix and home theatres.

“Our movie theatre has to keep up and compete with this on a daily basis, and we are always trying new ways to diversify our screen and showcase a variety of content,” Milne said.

“We have some of the best sound and visual capabilities anywhere in the country. We are proud of what the Royal Theatre has become and would love to see a full house on Monday when the film plays.”

Anyone who appreciates small town theatres should really see this movie, tickets are $5 at the door.

Something viewers will take away from the documentary is the bond small town movie theatres have with the community.

”It’s often the place where a first date happens, maybe even that first kiss,” Milne shared.

“You come as a child with your parents, and feel ‘grown-up’ when you’re allowed to finally go alone with friends for that first time. You come to escape reality for a couple of hours, where you can cry, laugh or just sit back and enjoy the action.”

The feature is 72 minutes, and includes footage from classic movie theatres in Interior B.C., from Vernon’s Towne Cinema to The Tivoli in Creston; and from Grand Forks’ 100-year old “GEM Theatre” to Revelstoke’s Roxy – and every stop along the way including of course, the Royal Theatre.

The filmmakers delve into the history of public film exhibition in the province, celebrate the communal movie-going experience in the present, and offer a glimpse of the movie house’s future in the digital age.

The documentary is also a tribute to the hard-working men and women of the region who keep the popcorn hot and movies flickering on screens.

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 Kelownamarquee lights were permanently switched off, suggesting an alarming trend: 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. This work became the basis of their multi-media Projection Project (www.projectionproject.com).

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 smaller B.C. cities and towns managed the huge outlay for new equipment and are thriving. And, venues which had been closed, like Vernon’s Towne and the Civic Theatre in Nelson, were 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 theatres of the interior are currently for sale.

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