Tag Archives: Theatre

It’s VIFF Time Again

Cinema

Yes, the Vancouver International Film Festival is back for 2017. Today begins the 36th installment of the Film Festival. This year promises more excitement, more films and more events.

The biggest thing VIFF will have for this year is its Films+ talks. This is where there will be talks and lectures on film and its technicalities. The Creator Talk events promise big names and top experts in the field such as: Carlton Cuse, showrunner for Bates Motel; director Jeremy Podeswa and cinematographer Greg Middleton from Game Of Thrones; and costume designer Ane Crabtree from The Handmaid’s Tail. The festival also includes Industry Hub events which are full-day events focusing on industry activity and promoting film in the future. Such events include VR: Expanding frontiers In Storytelling, one day focused on the indie film industry, industry exchange events and a Buffer Festival.

As for volunteering, this year there were 1100 volunteers signing up. That is as big as it was during last year. Because of that, they’ve developed a new system for how volunteers can see a film for free. They would now have to wait in the rush line and wait until availability is know in order to get a seat for the film. Makes sense since it is quite common for volunteers to horde a lot of free showings during the fest. There is a plus: volunteers that serve their shift in its entirety can receive a voucher to get their own free ticket for certain films. It has to be done online. That makes better sense. I anticipate to see a lot of good films. I’m doing something new for volunteering. This year, I’ll be a driver. I am to drive people from the Sutton Hotel to the cinemas, the hotel to the airport, or pick people up from the airport to the Sutton Hotel or wherever they want to be dropped off. They will range from actors to directors to film crew to special guests. This is something new to look forward to. And I drive a Lexus SUV!

This year’s roster of films promises a lot of attractions This year’s VIFF claims to show over 300 shorts and feature films from 84 countries or regions. As of press time, 11 films are official submissions for the category of Best Foreign Language Film for this year’s Oscars. A footnote worth adding is Quit Staring At My Plate from last year’s VIFF is Croatia’s official entry in the category for this year. Canadian films will remain the focus as has been in past Festivals.

This year’s top sponsors include Telus, Telefilm Canada (which is celebrating its 50th year), Christie screens, Delta Airlines, Lexus and Creative BC. SuperChannel will take over the People’s Choice awards again.

As for highlights, here’s a list of some of the films headlining the VIFF:

  • OPENING GALA: Meditation park – Chinese Canadian director Mina Shum directs a live-action story set in Vancouver. Stars Sandra Oh..
  • CLOSING GALA:  Wonderstruck – Todd Haynes worked with Julianne Moore in 2002’s Far From Heaven. Here, Haynes and Moore return in a film that promises to be another delight.
  • Borg vs. McEnroe – A film starring Shia LaBeouf about one of the greatest tennis rivalries of all-time.
  • Breathe – Andy Serkis’ directorial debut about a young couple (Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy) whose young marriage is threatened by the husband’s sudden disability.
  • Call Me By Your Name – Stars Armie Hammer. A story about sexual awakening in the 1980’s.
  • A Fantastic Woman – A Spanish film of a trans woman dealing with life after losing the man she loves. won Best Screenplay at the Berlin Film Festival
  • The Florida Project – Willem Dafoe stars in this film about a hotel manager with a hard heart who changes thanks to a six year-old girl.
  • Happy End – Michael Haneke is back! This is a story of a privileged family living alone in their estate with their fortunes threatened over time.
  • The Hidden Sword– Considered to be the biggest highlight of Asian film in the festival. This promises a lot of sword action.
  • Indian Horse– This is a Canadian story that’s far-reaching. It focuses on a boy who’s a victim of the Canadian Residential School System but finds an escape in dance.
  • The Killing Of A Sacred Deer – Yorgos Lanthimos, director of The Lobster,  is back along with Colin Farrell to create another dark comedy. This time Nicole Kidman joins in this bizarre dark story. won Best Screenplay at Cannes.
  • Loving Vincent – An animated film with a focus on the artwork of Vincent Van Gogh. More than 120 paintings are involved in this film.
  • Okja–  A South Korean drama about a young girl who develops a friendship with a giant animal in the mountains.
  • The Square – Winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year, this is a bizarre comedy about an artist who creates his own eccentric world and bounds.
  • The Party – British film about a politician (Kristin Scott Thomas) who holds a dinner for her contemporaries, only to wreak a lot of verbal havoc.

So this is what this year’s VIFF has in store. It all starts September 28th and it all ends October 13th. Looking forward to it.

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It’s VIFF Time Again

Cinema

Yes, the Vancouver International Film Festival starts again. Today begins the 35th installment of the Film Festival. This year will not only be exciting because of what to see but also what new additions are happening.

This year’s theme is: “Expand the frame.” Part of the aim of this year’s VIFF is to make the Festival more accessible and more creative. One of the new additions is the VIFF Hub. The Hub and surrounding area will be the location for lectures and exhibitions surrounding film and art. There will even be art exhibitions, virtual reality exhibits and music performances from DJs, local performers and performers from around the world. Some events are free of charge as long as you’re a VIFF member while some may be ticketed events. The VIFF website will explain it all.

Film is still the centre of it all. There will not only be films shown but lectures from industry professionals as well. Directors, producers and actors will appear at some showings for Q&A’s including an appearance of Tatiana Maslany. Deal-making will also be included in the process. This year, for the first time, there will be an IMAX film shown over at the Telus World of Science for the Closing Gala.

As for volunteering, this year there were 1100 volunteers signing up. Way higher than the usual 800 that serve the required 32 hours of work. Because of that, volunteer seating will be limited during many films or not allotted at all. Nevertheless I should be able to get in to see a lot of good films. This year promises to have hundreds of shorts and feature films from 73 countries, including five ‘globetrotting’ films. As of press time, 13 films are official submissions for  the category of Best Foreign Language Film for this year’s Oscars. A footnote worth adding is A Flickering Truth from last year’s VIFF is New Zealand’s official entry in the category for this year. Canadian films will remain the focus as has been in past Festivals. This year’s top sponsor is no longer Rogers but a more local big name in telecommunications: Telus. SuperChannel will take over the People’s Choice awards.

As for highlights, here’s a list of some of the films headlining the VIFF:

  • OPENING GALA: Maudie – A biographic film of Canadian folk artist Maude Lewis starring Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke.
  • CLOSING GALA:  Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience – An IMAX spectacle of the universe from the beginning of time to today. Written and directed by Terrence Malick and narrated by Brad Pitt.
  • American Honey – A drama about a teenage orphan trying to grow up. Directed by Andrea Arnold and stars Shia LaBeouf.
  • The Birth Of A Nation – This Sundance’s hot ticket and the hottest thing to come from the fest in years. Nate Parker writes, directs and stars in this drama of a slave rebellion that occurred decades before the Civil War.
  • Elle – The latest black comedy from controversy-causing director Paul Verhoeven. Isabelle Huppert plays a video game CEO with a lust for power and revenge.
  • The Girl With All The Gifts – A British zombie drama directed by Colm McCarthy and stars Gemma Arterton and Glenn Close.
  • Graduation – A Romanian drama of a doctor doing what he can to insure his daughter gets into a presigious university. Director Cristian Mungiu won Best Director at this year’s Cannes Film Fest for this.
  • The Handmaiden – A Korean drama of a pickpocket who plays a Japanese maid of an heiress whose fortunes he plans to steal. Divided by chapters and loaded with sensuality.
  • Human – A documentary by French director Yann Arthus-Bertrand. It focuses on the world from on high from positive things like love to even negative things like murder.
  • I, Daniel Blake – This year’s Palme d’Or winner at Cannes, this film focuses on a man getting his disability status reassesses and denied benefits. Ken Loach’s look at one man rivaling the system.
  • Julieta – Pedro Almodovar is back! Spain’s submission for the Best Foreign Language film for this year’s Oscars, Almodovar returns to the heart-on-the sleeve melodramas with female lead characters he’s most famous for.
  • Manchester By The Sea – Another highlight from this year’s Sundance. Director Kenneth Lonergan showcases a story of a man (Casey Affleck) returning to his Massachusetts home after the death of his brother and trying to sort out his family’s past.
  • Milton’s Secret – A Canadian hot ticket directed by Barnet Bain, it’s a unique story of how a troubled 12 year-old teenager finds relief from the frustrations of his life through his grandfather. Stars Donald Sutherland and Michelle Rodriguez.
  • Moonlight – Director Barry Jenkins showcases a drama of an African-American man struggling to come out despite the past troubles that haunt him.
  • Toni Erdmann – Germany’s submission for the Best Foreign Language film for this year’s Oscars, the film tells the story of a woman frustrated with her conniving father and his female disguise that irritates her to the point of leaving him behind after her promotion.

So this is what this year’s VIFF has in store. It all starts September 29th and it all ends October 14th. Lots of excitement to come.

 

 

The Dolphin Theatre: Gone But Fondly Remembered

014On Tuesday, May 27th, the Dolphin Theatre located on Hastings Street in North Burnaby showed its last shows. It would make room for a planned condominium project. The Dolphin Theatre doesn’t have the same legendary status as recently closed theatres like the Hollywood or the Ridge but it did provide a place for a community.

The Dolphin Theatre was a small movie theatre located in North Burnaby by the corner of Hastings and Willingdon. It was opened in 1966 and featured two screens with a total seating capacity of 430. It started as an independent theatre and continued to be successful at operating for a long time. However during the last decade, the Dolphin Theatre had been under threat from problems commonly experienced by most smaller theatres in Greater Vancouver like land development issues, rising costs of rent, the changing forms of entertainment and the changing technologies of showing movies.

People young and old came to the last showing at the Dolphin.

People young and old came to the last showing at the Dolphin.

In 2010, Rahim Manji started operating the Dolphin Theatre. Manji also operated the Hollywood 3 cinema in Surrey and Pitt Meadows theatre. For a look at the Hollywood 3 theatres he runs, click here. He has shown a wide variety of films over t the Dolphin but he mostly had family films showing for someplace in the neighborhood to bring the whole family to. Since that time, other theatres have closed down like the independently-owned Hollywood, Ridge and Denman and megaplexes like the Granville 7 and Station Square. Last year it was decided that a four-story mixed use development would be built on the area of the Dolphin. The project includes commercial space, residential units, and 11 wheelchair-accessible units for people with disabilities.

The Dolphin Theatre isn’t one in which I have been loyal to for a long time. Actually I just started liking it over last summer. I just decided to see We’re The Millers there one time because I wanted to see what all the buzz was all about. There had been times in the past i wanted to go there but distance and timing were almost always an issue. Finally I had my chance. It was a good theatre for those who just wanted to relax. Nothing grandiose. Nothing too styled up. Actually I think most of it has remained unchanged since it opened. As for the screen, they’d have an advertising system before the movies different from that of Cineplex or the other chain theatres. One more set for local theatres much like the one for the Rio Theatre, one of the last independent theatres in existence. Anyways I enjoyed the show and hoped to come back to see more.

Funny how it was only until then I realized how close I was to the theatre. Took me that long to figure out? Since that time I decided to go whenever a movie I wanted to see was showing. I would return weeks later to see Gravity. I remembered before the film, there were no trailers shown. Days later when I saw nothing on the website about anything upcoming there, I wondered if it was about to close. I researched the news and saw a story from months earlier of its fate in city hall. Anyways I was relieved the next day to learn movies were still being shown there. I also went to see Ender’s Game and The Hunger Games. I also tried a $2 Tuesday, one of the theatre’s big highlights, and saw Frozen with a couple of friends.

Then I heard the news when a friend posted the news story on her Facebook page. I was unhappy about it and I decided to go on its last day  May 27th for its last showing: The Amazing Spiderman 2. I got there ten minutes before showtime but by then, I was too late. It was too long of a line and already it was filled with people who wanted to visit the Dolphin for the last showing. Rahim handed out passes for a free movie over at the two other Hollywood 3 theatres for those who couldn’t get in. Fortunately I was able to talk to Rahim. I told him I didn’t mind not seeing the show but I wanted to see the closing speech. He was willing to do so.

The crowd at the last showing was a mixed bag of people: young and old. I’m sure there were some that came to witness the last day of the theatre but for some in the audience, they came to be part of a theatre that they were appreciative of. I’m sure there were many from the neighborhood of North Burnaby who came that night, appreciative of a place that helped keep the local kids off the streets. Just before The Amazing Spiderman 2 was about to start, Rahim and his other co-workers stood at the front and he thanked the audience for coming to the last showing at the Dolphin. There were times he had to hold himself back. However he ended his speech mentioning that independent theatres in Vancouver are a dying breed. There are only three left. That was a hard truth but necessary to be mentioned at that time. I talked to him after his speech and I wished him well with the other two theatres.

It’s true about the problem of independent theatres in Vancouver. I already mentioned the problems at the beginning and of some that have closed down. However it’s not the only problem. Two years ago Burnaby had three movie theatres to go to: the Dolphin, Station Square and SilverCity at Metrotown. Station Square had to be closed down because of a land development taking place. Actually all but a few businesses on that chuck of land that was part of Station Square that included a Future Shop and a Save-On-Foods had to relocate themselves and make way for the whole area to be torn down for the development. They’re still doing construction to it right now. It’s almost two years. Now with the Dolphin closed there’s only the SilverCity at Metrotown. It’s a shame only one right now.

I actually found out there will be a new movie theatre opening up in the redevelopment of the Brentwood Town Centre. I consider that to be a plus for the city as it gives the kids someplace to go to. However Rahim saw it through an independent theatre point of view and is unhappy it will be one of those chain theatres. That was a good point. I only know of the Rio and the Dunbar being the only independent ones still standing. Sure there’s the VanCity and the Cinematheque but they are involved with film on a higher scale and have their own offices there.

It is a shame that I was only able to know the Dolphin Theatre for not even a year. Too bad it closed recently. Nevertheless I’m glad I had the chance to visit it when I did. Sure I wish I did it sooner. Sure I wish I could do it now. But I’m glad I had the chance.

Goodbye Dolphin Theatre. Thanks for the entertainment you’ve given the neighborhood over the years.

The Dolphin Theatre: 1966-2014

The Dolphin Theatre: 1966-2014

The Ridge Theatre: Gone But Still A Part Of History

The line-up for The Ridge's very last show went past the whole block of the minimall.

The line-up for The Ridge’s very last show went past the whole block of the minimall.

“Old theatres are irreplaceable. They could never be duplicated at today’s costs – but more importantly, their spirit could not be duplicated because they remind us of a day when going to the show was a more glorious and escapist experience. I think a town’s old theatres are the sanctuary of its dreams.”

– Roger Ebert, 1942-2013

On Sunday February 3, 2013, The Ridge Theatre in Vancouver showed its last movies. It was part of a ten-day film festival put on before its closure. For many, the closing of The Ridge was another downturn in Vancouver’s entertainment business. For others, it was the loss of what was simply a great charming building.

One of its charms was its art deco clamshells that framed the screen.

One of its charms was its art deco clamshells that framed the screen.

The Ridge Theatre first opened its doors in the Kitsilano Region of Vancouver on April 13, 1950 screening Henry V starring Sir Laurence Olivier. It was one of many single-screen theatres in Vancouver during a time when single-screen theatres were the norm. Even as the 1980’s approached with the advent of the VCR, video rentals and multiplextheatres, The Ridge still stuck around showing movies in its familiar theatre. It would even continue as an independent reparatory theatre starting in 1978 once bought by Leonard Schein. Schein would show independent and classic films to the public as well as movie fans. Owning and running The Ridge would even help Schein launch the locally-owned Festival Theatres chain which would help bring more independent and foreign cinema to Vancouver’s screens and found the Vancouver International Film Festival in 1982.

I myself saw my first film at The Ridge back in April of 2000. I remember it was Being John Malkovich. I remember seeing it with my cousin, who I’m not speaking with anymore, after eating at the Chinese restaurant in that strip mall. Since then, I would frequently go to The Ridge Theatre. I was always pleased with whatever movie I saw each time I went. It was a good small quaint theater in a nice neighborhood. When I first went, The Ridge Theatre was independently owned and had their movies planned at least two months in advance with a newspaper-like schedule. It was later possible to sign up for e-mail updates. Another thing I liked was the low-cost popcorn and a theatre that served coffee, cookies and brownies.

Another of its charms were the unique doors still stylish and unharmed by time.

Another of its charms were the unique doors still stylish and unharmed by time.

Things changed December 24, 2005 when it was no longer under its original ownership. It had been rebought by Schein for Festival Cinemas. It was a hard break for the original owners who wanted to keep it an independent cinema. Nevertheless the new ownership actually did a lot to enhance play as Festival Cinemas had a reputation of promoting some of the more independent films. Even after The Ridge became a full-price theatre with contemporary seating installed, people still enjoyed coming. It’s almost as if it was never hurt in the first place. The Ridge would also become a facility for showing films part of the Vancouver Film Festival and show live soccer games during the World Cup and Euro events.

Then news was heard months ago. Possibly more than a year ago. The area around The Ridge Theatre had been sold to developers. They wanted to turn it into condominiums. A common Vancouver situation where old buildings get sold for the sake of being crushed and turned into condominiums. That just shows how competitive land and its value is here in Vancouver. Many people were unhappy about it. There was even a picket over it months ago. Nevertheless the decision was firm. Sales for the new condos started some time ago. Already other businesses in that minimall had already either closed up or found a new place to do business at. You can read about it more in this Georgia Straight article.

Oh yes. The soundproof crying room. How many other theatres do you know having that?

Oh yes. The soundproof crying room. How many other theatres do you know having that?

It was unfortunate for The Ridge to close as it was yet another theatre in Vancouver to close up. Many of you have read my story about the closure of The Hollywood Theatre. The Hollywood still stands but as a church. Other theatres that have closed in the past two years have not even had that minor bit of luck. The VanEast is now closed and is now being turned into business area. The multi-screen Denman Theatre which was great as a second-run theatre has been turned into store area. The three-screen Oakridge theater is now being converted into its new business area. The seven-screen Granville 7 closed in November to make way for a condo development. And another multi-screen venue, the Station Square cinema, has been closed because of a radical redevelopment project in the Station Square area. And now The Ridge. This is hard times for Vancouver’s cinemas right now. I’m sure this is also especially difficult for the Vancouver International Film Festival to find a new venue for 2013 and have it for many years to come.

Another charm of The Ridge: the wall painting. It's a shame it will be gone with the theatre.

Another charm of The Ridge: the wall painting. It’s a shame that will be gone with the theatre.

Moving ahead, February 28th would mark the end of Festival Cinemas, the movie company that organizes showings at The Ridge as well as the Park Theatre and the Fifth Avenue. I’m sure it was shocking for many. it was shocking for me too. The owners Schein and Tom Lightburn decided to retire. Fifth Avenue Cinemas and Park Theatre are now owned by Cineplex. Schein and Lightburn reassured people in the Festival Cinema’s last email to patrons that the theatres will still continue to show the films common to what was shown during the Festival Cinema years. As of today, The Fifth Avenue does show some independent films along with a blockbuster or two. It’s great to see since that’s what Fifth Avenue patrons like myself have always come to and want to continue coming to. If they went to doing nothing but blockbusters at those theaters, they could lose a lot of patrons. Good to see them being smart about taking over Fifth Avenue as they were taking over Tinseltown.

Another priceless gem from The Ridge: the old movie projector on display just outside the theatre.

Another unique gem from The Ridge: the old movie projector displayed in the lobby.

Going back to The Ridge’s closing, The Ridge was to close on Sunday February 3, 2013, but not without a bang. The last ten days consisted of what would be called the Last Film Festival in showing some of the most beloved movies as of recent and some classic gems at $5 admission to salute The Ridge’s last days. Saturday January 26th was a highlight with the last midnight showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Theatre. I was there and it was a fun night with the Vancouver Rocky Horror fan club in attendance. Virgins were called up to participate in a fake orgasm contest. I believe there was a contest for costumes. The rest of the time was devoted to watching the movie and participating whenever necessary. Unfortunately there were three times when the old celluloid reel broke. Nevertheless it was a fun time.

One problem with the showings was that many were sold out. In fact there was to be a special showing of the 1985 made-in-BC Canadian film My American Cousin on Thursday the 31st in which I was hoping to see with my friend. It was both a screening and a Q&A with a special guest which had a $10 admission. It was sold out before I could get to the box office. It was obvious that if I wanted to see the very last showing at The Ridge–Midnight In Paris at 9:10pm– I would have to buy my ticket well in advance. I bought it that Thursday evening. Smart move.

When I arrived, it was 8:20. Already there was a long line-up. It was halfway down the block and growing quickly before they finally let the people in. I looked around at the buildings in that minimall. The bowling alley is still active but for how long? The Chinese Restaurant will close by the end of the year upon the owner’s retirement. All the other businesses in that mall have either closed or have moved to a new location. The only other businesses still active were the McDonalds and the office buildings on the outside facing 15th Ave. Just outside there were people who were too late to get tickets for the show and waiting to be the last lucky ones. Reminds me of me back on Thursday for wanting to see My American Cousin. I think all the Ridge shows sold out.

After I entered, I wanted to tour and take pictures. I was able to take pictures of the main floor before Midnight In Paris was to be shown. The top floor which had the crying room and the camera room was off-limits for that time. I even remember as I was taking pictures outside the main entrance before the show, a man talked about his first time at The Ridge in which it was a date with the woman who would become his wife. His wife was in attendance with him too that night.

As the show was about to start, the emcee didn’t talk much before Midnight In Paris was shown. It wasn’t like the long goodbye with speeches that happened over at the Hollywood Theatre. He kept it brief and he just simply welcomed us all to the last screening at The Ridge. Actually instead of a long goodbye, we were told of all the theatres that were to get certain ‘pieces’ of The Ridge. One film company was to get its display projector, another was to get the stained glass windows, another was to get the doors. Good to see that certain items of The Ridge will be kept for a long time. Midnight In Paris played after. So the image of Owen Wilson and Lea Seydoux walking off together on a Paris street makes history as the last image to grace the screen at The Ridge.

Seeing how 2013 meant the end of The Ridge, these three women wanted to put their foot down in 2012 with The Ridge still alive and thriving. Yeah, I too wished it was still 2012 that night.

Seeing how 2013 meant the end of The Ridge, these three women wanted to put their foot down in 2012 with The Ridge still alive and thriving. Yeah, I too wished it was still 2012 that night.

As the credits were rolling, some left. More left as the credits finished but at least a hundred people wanted to stick around and get their last looks at The Ridge Theatre. I was taking pictures all over the place: the crumbly snack bar, the movie signs, the ads on the billboard, many things. I also took some photos of the inside of the theatre too and its nice set-up. Something you don’t see much of. Then I finally had my chance to check the top floor. Outside of the women’s restroom, there was a meeting room that had paper of old Ridge letterhead, a sound-proof crying room in the balcony and the projection room. The projection room was a marvel to see. It was nice to see the projector they were using. It was also nice to see the view of the screen from the projection area. I took more photos around the place.

Then finally I returned back to the theatre area. Half an hour and people still wanted to stick around. This was different than the Hollywood closing. The thing I remember most was there were three women from a writing group whom I met. They wanted pictures of them at the theatre. They also got me to take a picture of them showing they don’t want to leave 2012 when the theater was still alive and well. Yeah, I wished it was still 2012 too and The Ridge was still alive, well and thriving. Then after sticking around and taking some last photos, I finally left.

Just when you thought it was all over after I left The Ridge Sunday night, it wasn’t. The following night, I went to the Rio Theatre to see two movies and guess what I saw? Low and behold, I saw the doors of The Ridge theatre. I was happy to see that pieces of The Ridge were already being kept around. Yes, this did mean that the dismantling of The Ridge already started the day after but I was happy to see that the memory of The Ridge will be kept alive.

The closure of The Ridge was not the happiest of occasions. Yes, it was a not-so-pleasant display of the sign of the times. Nevertheless it was happy to see a theatre close surrounded by a lot of people who loved the theatre. For those that attended the last showings at The Ridge, The Ridge was a theatre that meant something to everyone. I know it meant a lot to me and I’m happy I had a chance not just to go to The Ridge Theatre but to experience it during the last thirteen years of its life. Goodbye Ridge Theatre. You’re gone but you still exist in the hearts of many.

The Ridge Theatre: 1950-2013

The Ridge Theatre: 1950-2013

The Hollywood Theatre: Gone But Beloved By Many

On the evening of May 29, 2011, I was at the Hollywood Theatre for their last double-bill showing. It was a bittersweet night with a huge attendance. The night not only marked the end of a Vancouver landmark as we know it but a family business too.

The Hollywood Theatre was opened in the West Broadway area of Vancouver back on Thanksgiving weekend of October 24, 1935. Reginald Fairleigh, a Vancouver cinema mogul, and his wife Margaret had the theatre built in the Great Depression so that her children could have jobs. At the time, there were already 26 other movie theatres in Vancouver. The theatre opened with the double-bill of Will Rogers in Life Begins At 40 and Thelma Todd in Lightning Strikes Twice. Tickets for the double-bills were a dime or 15 cents for a balcony seat. Men had to wear a tie and women had to wear a dress. A man tempted to make out with his lady was given a small sheet of paper saying, “Treat your date as if she were your mother.” Over time, many famous faces and many great movies graced the screen. Its tagline which existed until its last days was: “Pick O’ The Best Plays.”

Styles of movies changed and the theatre would face rivalries from television, pay-pre-view and VCR but the Hollywood continued success. Also in place even in present day were many things done back when it first started, like double-bills, taking straight cash at the ticket booth, and most importantly the Fairleigh family owning and operating the theatre. The closest thing to a big change was the start of the ‘odd double-bill’ back in 1990. This phenomenon started when My Left Foot and Rambo were aired one weekend. Some first thought it was a bad mix. It actually was a success because they attracted two completely different movie crowds that were both big in size. The ‘odd double-bill’ was kept up in many different versions in the years since.

Over the years, I’ve taken a liking to the Hollywood Theatre.  Just a fact about myself: when I first moved to Vancouver from Winnipeg in February 2000, I was just a casual moviegoer with a general interest in movies for someone at my age. Nothing big. But after I saw American Beauty just days after I arrived in Vancouver, that movie and that year’s Oscar race to go with it changed my life. 

Okay, going back to the Hollywood Theatre, I first saw a movie at the Theatre in 2001, shortly after moving to Vancouver from Winnipeg for the second time, and this time for good. I saw them as a second run movie theatre that played not just any movies for a second run but good ones too. I am unsure exactly what the first movie I saw there was. I’ve been asking myself ever since I learned of the closure what the first movie I saw there was; I believe it was Almost Famous. A few weeks later, I saw Gladiator. I came to like the theatre for its double-bills and for the best price of movie popcorn in town. Another thing I liked was their photocopied program of scheduled movies over a six-week period. I’d frequently pass by to pick one up. One noteworthy thing about the program is that in its brief review of the movie, they always had the director’s name and in bold. I consider that something.  A couple of years ago, I came across the newspaper article hanging in a frame. I saw it was from 1935 and talked of the opening of the theatre.  When I saw that I thought “Wow, 1935! This is definitely a piece of Vancouver history!”

Here’s some other excellent movies I saw over there: Mulholland Drive, City Of God, Downfall, Vera Drake, Lemony Snicket, Transamerica,  American Gangster, Changeling, Tropic Thunder, Another Year, it’s just too hard to remember them all . Yeah, I saw a couple of bad ones and the odd guilty pleasure now and then too, but the Hollywood never let me down. The most unique ‘odd double-bill’ I went to had to be the pairing of Bridget Jones: The Age of Reason and Vera Drake. Two movies with a British female lead character: two completely different films of quality. The Hollywood was really convenient when it would show certain popcorn movies and ‘Oscar buzzers’ I always wanted to see but missed during its main theatre run. I’d always check the newspaper to see what the Hollywood was showing. I also remember leaving my second job, which ends at 9pm, to rush out and take buses to the Hollywood. Even if the movie ended before midnight or past midnight, I didn’t mind bussing back home that late.

Hollywood also consists of a few movie-going milestones of mine which I’m quite proud of. The first is seeing City Of God in the spring of 2003 before most would later discover this gem on DVD. The second is A Serious Man the night before the 2009 Oscar nominations were announced. It’s an Oscar-time tradition of mine to see all five, or now ten, Best Picture nominees and seeing A Serious Man the night before the nominations were announced completed it for me right there and then!

On Monday May 23rd, which is Victoria Day, I went to the Hollywood with my cousin to see Another Year. It had been months since I had been there. As much as I like the Hollywood, I like going when there’s a movie I like or a movie I want to see but haven’t. Such was the case that day. Before I entered the theatre, I learned from the ticket taker that they would be closing and that there would be a farewell party over the weekend. That was a shock to me as well as to her.

One of the reasons for the demise is because of the current difficulties of the single-screen neighborhood theatre. Nowadays if a movie theatre is to do well, it either has to be a multiscreen cinemaplex or connected to a shopping mall. In the past ten years, Vancouver has seen a lot of single screen theatres go and end up crushed for developers to construct something new. There’s the Varsity Theatre near the University of British Columbia that ended years ago and is now developed into condo land. There was recently the Van East which ended in January and has had its inside worked in for new development. Even triple theatres like the New West Theatre and multiplexes Langley’s Willowbrook cinema closed and were developed into something new. Some multiplexes like the Granville 7 constantly face threats of closure. Currently there are only six single screen theatres in Vancouver; the independently owned Rio Theatre and Dunbar Cinema; the Festival Cinemas-owned Ridge and Park Theatres; and the organization-oriented Pacific Cinematheque and Vancity Theatre.

Another reason for its demise over the years is now of the many ways one could see film and its current ability to be accessed at no cost on the internet. I don’t want to get into a tirade about how Napster and Netflix get people with a selfish sense they have a ‘right’ to free entertainment, but I will say that movie websites like Netflix has made it so easy and affordable for one to have all the online movies they want at a monthly rate, it’s not only hit theatres hard but video stores hard too. Plus so many ways to watch movies, especially those that happened in the last 10 years like Youtube, in your airline seat, on your smartphone and even on your wristwatch. Makes the original ‘other’ ways like television, pay TV and VCR seem old and tame.

In the days before its closing weekend, I contemplated when to go to the farewell weekend. I was first thinking of Sunday only, then both Friday and Sunday. Also I was confused of what exactly was happening. What I heard at first, I interpreted that there would be a party going on in the theatre and that there would be a piano playing with all the movies silent. My mind does play tricks on me. When I returned on Thursday to take some pictures of the outside, I talked with the ticket-taker: Vince Fairleigh, the fourth generation Fairleigh to work at the Hollywood wo had been taking my tckets all these years. I told him I would miss it. Also in terms of the weekend festivities, I was left thinking of the same ‘party’ that I heard about on Monday.

Alice giving tickets one last time.

Friday the 27th came and I was to go with my friend to that ‘party’. The ticket taker at the door was an elderly lady: grandmother Alice Fairleigh well into her nineties! By the time I got in, I saw the ending of Cinema Paradiso. It wasn’t exactly a party but a showing of movies with speeches. After Cinema Paradiso ended, there were some speeches from professional actor and family friend Mackenzie Gray and from David Fairleigh Jr., the last Fairleigh to run the Hollywood. He gave some words about what the theatre was like in the past, including the ‘treat your date’ etiquette. He also talked of the experience of watching the movie in a theatre and how the new modern ways like cellphone and wristwatch can’t compare. Then began the final feature of the ‘closing double-bill’ which I will refer to later in this article. As it began, I left to check out the balcony. As I was taking some pictures, I noticed the door to the projectionist room was open and with a guest. I went into the room as well. I met David Jr. and we talked more. I learned a lot about the theatre and of the projector they had. He said “I’m going to miss the place,” not looking for sympathy. Then I returned to my friend in the theatre, after being away for almost half an hour. When the movie ended, the curtain closed. I thought I’d probably see in close on Sunday for the last time. As I was leaving, I saw Alice in the ticket booth and took some photos of her. I left wondering how Sunday will be like.

Sunday May 29th was a night of goodbyes but no one was going to shed a tear. All the family was here: grandmother Alice, David Jr. and wife, and all the Fairleigh sons with their families. The theatre was near-packed for this night, the final night. The night began with some applause to individuals. Then there was something unique that hasn’t happened in many decades but happened all weekend: a silent movie accompanied by a pianist. The pianist was Johnathan Benny, award winning director and cinematographer and good friend of Vince’s. The silent movie was The Goat which Buster Keaton directed and starred in. Many would forget that’s what the Hollywood did back when it first started. Even though it opened while ‘talkies’ were just starting, there were silent movies showed then too. It was fun to see the old film again and hear the piano played at the time in the way it was done: playing accompanying the many humorous, bizarre, dramatic and romantic moments of the film.

After The Goat ended, there were some speeches from family members like Alice, Vince and David Jr. David’s was notable because again he made the mention of the experience of watching a movie on a theatre. Despite that day being a bittersweet day, he sang the Charlie Chaplin song ‘Smile’. Then began the first of the final weekend’s double-bill Cinema Paradiso: a 1989 Italian film about Salvatore, a successful director, reminiscing about growing up in a smalltown’s theatre and learning projection running and filmmaking from the projectionist who just died. He returns to his hometown for the funeral and witnesses the Cinema Paradiso blown up. Vince picked the movie because the movie practically is what his life was all about: growing up in a movie theatre. The scene of when the grown Salvatore enters the dead Cinema Paradiso before it was blown up seemed almost synonymous with the Hollywood that weekend. At the end, the audience gave a huge applause. Mackenzie gave more thank yous but asked us to return to see the final movie of the night: Faster.

I left for a break in the lobby, taking more pictures and talking to people, especially many of the Fairleigh family including Vince’s brothers. Then I returned to the theatre to see what would be the last movie shown at the Hollywood: Faster– an action movie about a revenge mission starring The Rock. It seems odd for the Hollywood Theatre to show Faster after Cinema Paradiso but the mix of two was ironically appropriate for the closing weekend because it was part of the ‘odd double-bill’ tradition. And a double-bill of Cinema Paradiso and Faster doesn’t get any odder than that. I didn’t care too much about Faster. In fact I found it like your typical action movie with heavy emphasis on the shootings and car chases and featuring wooden overdramatic acting. Nevertheless I wanted to be there for the Hollywood’s last minutes. As The Rock left the screen, he had the honor of being the last face to grace the Hollywood’s screen. After the credits finished rolling, the curtains didn’t close. Instead some people walked around the screen area and checked some of the rooms around the screen. I then went upstairs to the balcony and said goodbye to the Fairleighs and wished them the best of luck in the future and best of luck for the theatre.

On the evening of Monday the 29th, the day after, I returned to the Hollywood. To my surprise, the neon lights were on. I saw the inside from the windows. Empty concessions, tables and chairs from the night, mop left out. Closings are never pretty. The future of the Theatre is a big question mark. I’ve been hearing a lot of tales about what will happen. Some say the developers want to either crush it or change it into something. I heard from others that Vince has partial ownership and that it will stay a theatre for at least five years. Despite all the talk of the possibilities for the Theatre, nothing was certain and closing weekend had to be treated like it was a goodbye.  Since nothing’s really definite despite the fact I’m hoping for it to reopen, I took the closing weekend as that goodbye and I’ll let time decide what happens. I plan on bussing by at least once a week to see if there will be any changes and exactly what. I hope whatever they do, if the Theatre runs again, they keep the inside exactly as is. Many people on review websites have said that entering the theatre is like stepping back in time. How many present movie theatres do you know of that do that?

I do hope for the best for the Fairleighs. I do hope for the best for the Hollywood Theatre. I do hope the new owners take good care of the Theatre. I do hope the younger generation learns to appreciate watching movies in a theatre. In fact I’m glad they aired Cinema Paradiso for the final weekend because it’s considered by many to be a ‘love letter’ to movies and movie lovers. Until then, thank you Hollywood Theatre for the memories and the experience.

Hollywood Theatre: 1935-2011