British Columbia

The Force Awakens not showing at indy B.C. theatre due to distributor's demands

"If I thought that the 20,000 people in our community would be best served having nothing else on the only screen of the only theatre in town for four weeks, I could've done it," said owner Ann Nelson.

Owner of Patricia Theatre says distributor requires they play only Star Wars on their one screen for 4 weeks

Industrial Light & Magic studios from around the world worked on the visual effects for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, including the studio in Vancouver. (Lucasfilm/Twitter)

A short time ago, in a town not so far away, an independent movie theatre chose ... not to show Star Wars: The Force Awakens?

The Patricia Theatre in Powell River isn't showing it because, according to owner and operator Ann Nelson, the Canadian distributor Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Canada requires that theatres dedicate one screen to the film and show it for a minimum of four weeks.

The Patricia Theatre only has a single screen — which means that for a month, the theatre would only be showing one movie.

Contractual obligations

"All of the distributors, and all of the studios require that it be an exclusive engagement, that you can't watch two different films on the same screen, you have to have a separate screen to watch the film on," Nelson told On the Island host Gregor Craigie.

"If I thought that the 20,000 people in our community would be best served having nothing else on the only screen of the only theatre in town for four weeks, I could've done it. But I would have been doing a disservice to my community, and a disservice to my business."

The Patricia Theatre is the oldest movie theatre in B.C., according to its website. (www.patriciatheatre.com)

She said there is simply not enough demand in the town to play it for that long.

"To have to heat the theatre in the middle of winter, to have staff on hand and have concession product on hand, and have a handful of people show up, it's going to cost a theatre money and a loss of revenue."

Same problem in the past

CBC News reached out to the Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Canada for comment, but our requests were not returned by deadline.

Nelson said her theatre will get the Star Wars movie eventually, because once the minimum period of time is up, "Disney will then roll out another booking scheme for shorter bookings."

Deb Proby of the Raven's Cry Theatre in nearby Sechelt confirmed in an email to CBC News that having to commit to a four-week run is also keeping that single-screen, independent theatre from showing The Force Awakens.

The Raven's Cry Theatre also hopes they will get the film in mid January.

Nelson said she's had the same difficulties with distributors in the past.

"The last time they did this to me was with Frozen. I could not submit to a four-week commitment, so I got Frozen in it's fifth week. And the time before that was with The Help. I really wanted The Help; there was so much demand for it, and I didn't get it until the sixth week."

Nelson said that not all distributors are like that — for example Warner Brothers in the past changed their policy on The Lord of the Rings movies when they saw it wasn't feasible for small theatres.

"They were smart enough to recognize that we really knew our market better than they could, because the first couple of times they imposed a two-week minimum on us, the revenues in the second week —revenues that benefit them, not just us — dropped by more than 50 per cent."

An isolated community

Nelson said that many distributors simply don't understand the isolation of some communities, which only have small movie theatres.

Powell River is on the northern Sunshine Coast, and vehicles can only access it by ferry. (CBC)

Though not an island, Powell River is only accessible to vehicles by ferry (Courtenay, the nearest town showing the movie, is across the Georgia Strait on Vancouver Island).

"You can't just hop in a pickup truck and drive 280 miles to Edmonton to go see a movie if you feel like it," she said.

We understand isolation means isolation, the drawbridge is up when the ferry stops running. They don't actually comprehend that in other parts of North America."

Nelson said she can understand people's frustration that the Patricia Theatre doesn't have the film yet, since there has been so much excitement around the release of The Force Awakens, and many have planned to see it as part of their holiday celebrations.

"Believe me, I would be showing it, if I could."


To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled: Independent movie theatre in Powell River can't commit to showing Star Wars: The Force Awakens

With files from Gavin Fisher

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