Calgary

Kensington's historic Plaza Theatre goes up for lease

The future of another independent movie theatre is uncertain as the Plaza Theatre in the heart of Kensington is now up for lease.

Future of independent movie theatre uncertain as COVID-19 thins audiences

The Plaza is the second independent movie theatre to recently announce major changes to its operations. The Globe Cinema went up for sale last month, though it isn't closing down — the Calgary international Film Festival will be screening films there this year. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

The future of another independent movie theatre is uncertain as the Plaza Theatre in the heart of Kensington is now up for lease.

The Plaza was established more than 75 years ago and has been owned for the last 40 by Edmontonian Mike Brar.

Brar's son, T.J, said the decision to lease the iconic theatre was made when the Brars drove to Calgary last month to see a movie.

"When you have a show that's supposed to start … and you walk in that theater and it's empty, it is a very, very weird feeling," he said.

"Times just changed, and with the way COVID's going, it has kind of, unfortunately, pushed my dad into early retirement."

The reality, T.J. said, is unreal and heartbreaking.

"I have very, very fond memories of that building," he said.

State of flux

The Plaza is the second independent movie theatre to recently announce major changes to its operations.

The Globe Cinema went up for sale last month, though it isn't closing down — the Calgary international Film Festival (CIFF) will be screening films there this year.

According to Steve Schroeder, the executive director of CIFF, an interesting polarity currently exists in the local film industry.

On the one hand, he said, a high-quality crop of Alberta-made films is being released this year — some of the best they've seen.

'We really hope we don't lose the Plaza as a venue in the city,' said Steve Schroeder, the executive director of the Calgary International Film Festival. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

And on the other, Calgary's local venues — where those films are usually screened — are struggling.

"It's both concerning and fascinating to see what's happening in the film industry and the film ecology generally right now. With film festivals and more broadly, with production and film releasing, everything is in flux," Schroeder said.

"I think it's very important for independent venues to continue as one of the key ingredients that makes film festivals … the venues, and especially the independent venues, are one of the most critical ingredients to that. So we hope to find ways to continue to foster and support that."

For lease, not for sale

As for the Plaza itself, the theatre has had a huge impact on local film fanatics, Schroeder said.

He started seeing movies at the Plaza Theatre as a teenager, and hopes the new tenants will preserve its history.

"We really hope we don't lose the Plaza as a venue in the city," Schroeder said.

"We know it's up for lease, not for sale. Hopefully whoever operates it going forward will continue its great legacy — it's been massively important."

T.J. agreed.

Watching a movie at an independent theatre, and at the Plaza, is a different experience that can't be captured at a bigger movie theatre, he said.

And a prospective tenant willing to preserve the Plaza as an art-house cinema will get top billing on their list of renters.

"It is certainly a unique venue," T.J. said. "Hopefully we'll be back, if we can find a tenant … who is willing to keep that theatre the way that it is."

With files from Terri Trembath

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