By Brian May
Independent theatres in independent towns or why there’s a bright white building in Wells, B.C .
I have a photo. In it, my son stands stoically in front of a bright white building. He’s unshaven. He’s wearing a toque because, even though it is July, that’s what he does. Besides, the photo shows it was a cool gray day when we started on a canoe trip to Bowron Lakes. Our base was Wells, B.C. and the white building was the Sunset Theatre.
Wells is a fascinating and funky pit stop 50 km or so up an unpaved road just beyond Barkerville. Home of the finest cheeseburgers and coldest beer – an impression I admit is biased by a week of canoe camping – and home to the Sunset Theatre. And that was the focus of the photo: my son was a prop.
Aaron, like The Civic Theatre’s Programmer Jason, is a graduate of the SFU Film program. The Sunset Theatre was owned by the family of another film program alumnus. It was 2013, the first year of their Moonrise Film Festival and his short 16mm film Graceland was on the bill. We wouldn’t make it back for the independent film fest but we did take a picture.
As Sunset’s Artistic Director Keren Jeffery said in a recent Prince George Citizen article, “Wells is a unique setting, so in order to survive we have to do more than just be the place that has shows to watch.” The Moonrise Festival is now in its 5th year and last year they had 300 submissions.
Last June, with dreams of an annual Film Festival at The Civic in mind, Jason ventured to a cinema trade show event in Banff where he met up with other independent single-screen operators. They compared notes and mulled over successes and challenges. Many concerns are common but each town is also unique and like the Sunset Theatre in Wells they all offer more than just shows to watch.
Independent theatres reflect their audiences. A decade or three ago when I was living in Vancouver, the Ridge Theatre got my support because they showed concert films and had better snacks. For Jason, the Rio at Commercial and Broadway was a cultural cornerstone. There’s a piece on our Facebook page about the Rio and its battle to fend off development, but what makes people feel passionate about it is the midnight showings, the costumes people wear for special events, and the unique shows they offer.
Nelson’s Civic Theatre is unique because it offers all of the above. We are a place that will nurture the local screen-based industry and job creation. A home to documentaries, social awareness films, and dialogue events. A source for locally-made films, international independent content, family films, and Star Wars. Because we have our beloved theatre, the support of the City as our landlord, and the hearts of our audiences, we know we can continue to blossom and thrive and become a cornerstone of Nelson’s cultural and social life.
Right now, we are looking forward to one of our own signature events and a highlight of our season: the Annual Oscar Party, taking place on March 3 (tickets available on civictheatre.ca now). In some ways, this multi-dimensional costume party is about more than the Academy Awards – it is a celebration of the existence of our independent community cinema, and a reminder of the potential that exists for our organization and our building. Come be a prop and take some photos.