British Columbia

Classic films are keeping some indie theatres afloat, but survival is uncertain without new releases

Independent movie theatres are turning to family favourites and classic films to try to stay afloat this summer, as major summer blockbusters are being delayed or sent straight to streaming services due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Studios are either delaying major releases, or sending them straight to streaming

Salmar Theatres run two theatres in Salmon Arm, B.C., including Salmar Grand Cinemas. (Salmar Theatres)

Independent movie theatres are turning to family favourites and classic films to try to stay afloat this summer, as major summer blockbusters are delayed or sent straight to streaming services due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At Salmar Cinemas in Salmon Arm, B.C., Joel deBoer has found success with classic film franchises including the original Star Wars films and the Harry Potter series.

"Some of the parents enjoyed them when they were younger, so now they're watching their kids enjoy it on the big screen with them," he told CBC Radio West guest host Josh Pagé.

He's also let audiences vote on which movies they'd like to see, which is why he's working on a screening of the 1985 classic The Goonies.

"We work with a booker and we put to him the movies we would like to show, and he talks to distributors to see if they're available," he said.

Diane Robinson is taking a similar approach at the family-run Tillicum Twin Theatres in Terrace, B.C. When they reopened in June she ran the 1975 blockbuster Jaws, followed up by the original Ghostbusters, both of which met with reasonable success.

"I think it tells you the age group that we're getting out to our theatre now," she said.

Stephen Spielberg's 1975 thriller Jaws, about a man-eating great white shark that terrorized the fictional beach community of Amity, remains a classic monster film that's found renewed popularity on the big screen this year as theatres turn to old favourites to attract audiences. ( Universal Pictures)

But Robinson worried about how long she'd be able to stay afloat playing old movies.

Right now, most major studios are either delaying releases — such as the next films in the Fast and Furious and James Bond franchises — or sending them straight to streaming, as Disney has done with the Pixar film Onward and the live-action remake of Mulan.

Not everyone has survived the lack of new releases. While drive-in theatres are seeing renewed popularity, some towns have lost their big screens altogether.

In Houston, B.C., the Pleasant Valley movie theatre, as well as the attached bowling alley and mini-golf course, shut down permanently in April citing the COVID-19 pandemic. Even major chains such as Cineplex are struggling.

Robinson said she'd be meeting with her team at the end of August to assess her options, which could include shutting down or attempting to bring in live events to try and keep things going.

What she'd really like are fresh attractions to entice audiences. Both Robinson and deBoer said they're hopeful a pair of new releases coming to theatres later this month — The SpongeBob Movie and the Russell Crowe thriller Unhinged  will draw bigger audiences than they've seen so far.

"But it's just that COVID thing," Robinson said. "They're not sure."

A list of the extra safety precautions being taken at Tillicum Twin Theatre in Terrace, B.C., due to COVID-19. (Diane Robinson)

Robinson said movie theatres are following strict health guidelines which include sanitizing seats, selling tickets online and requiring staff to wear gloves and masks, so people should feel free to come out and escape for a little while.

"You get to come, you get to sit in a safe environment, you lose yourself for two hours," she said. "I don't think anything can beat that with all the things that are going on right now."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in unceded Lheidli T'enneh territory in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca. You can also send encrypted messages using Signal or iMessage to 250.552.2058.

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