City’s small cinemas a dying breed
The Plaza Theatre may be next to close
A few years ago, it seemed that independent cinema was thriving in Calgary. Locals could depend on theatres such as The Uptown Stage and Screen, The Plaza Theatre and The Globe Theatre to offer something more diverse than a typical Cineplex Entertainment experience. These days though, Calgary is looking at the possibility of having one independent theatre by the time the city’s reign as Canada’s cultural capital comes to a close.
The Uptown had a well-publicized dispute with the building’s landlord over heating and maintenance, among other things, and those screens have been black since November. Now, it seems like the Plaza might be following suit next, after entertaining Calgarians since 1935. Having been reduced to frequently showing one film a week, life has not been so cinematic for the art house of late.
Since former manager Pete Harris took a job in Edmonton, owner Mike Brar has been managing the theatre, despite not living in the city. Former clients have been “dropping like flies,” said a Plaza employee who wishes to remain anonymous for job security.
“With the festivals canceling their arrangements with the Plaza, with clients from film companies declining from us to get permission to use their films we barely even know what’s playing, what rentals are coming up, and what the show times are anymore,” the employee said.
More recently, the Calgary Underground Film Festival cut ties with the Plaza, and the Globe has swooped in to host the event as the only remaining independent theatre left in the city. Having the advantage of being part of Landmark Cinemas since 2004 has definitely benefited the Globe.
The theatre has been consistently chugging along. Landmark specializes in small theatres all across Western Canada, but allows the Globe to stay as a smaller more independent theatre while still being a part of the Landmark family. Faced for years with the tough challenge of having its biggest competition right across the street from them, the theatre seems to be doing more than OK since the closure of the Uptown.
After its adjacent competitor closed in December, it’s been a familiar sight to see lines of people waiting to get into the Globe and spilling out down the block, although it has been remarked that the reason could either be the lack of competition or having superstar George Clooney’s face up on screen night after night with their highly successful screening of Oscar-winning film The Descendants.
Even though the recent surge of cinema-goers has been powering the Globe through the winter months, the challenge will always be present to draw audiences. With many films being shown to limited audiences, having just two screens and the constant struggle of drawing people out of the comfort of their basements, it seems they have their work cut out for them.
Independent movie rental store Bird Dog Video recently went out of business because of these challenges. It could not compete with Netflix and other online services, much like the larger chains it competed with over its seven years in Calgary. It fought a hard fight, but it was no match in a changing media marketplace.
With calculations done within the Plaza by employee Alan Dyer estimating that the art house could potentially be shutting down in as early as three months, keeping independent cinema alive in Calgary would start and end with the Globe Cinema, assuming no new theatres were to open. In an ideal world, it would be great to see alternative choices be abundant, especially with Calgary’s growing arts scene. However, it seems independent film in Calgary may be heading towards its final scene.