Take 2 for Whitehorse's 'iconic' movie theatre, as film society takes over

The long intermission will soon be over at the Yukon Theatre in Whitehorse, as the Yukon Film Society has signed a lease to take over the disused facility.

'The end goal is ... turning it into something that's a real sort of gem in the community'

The Yukon Theatre in Whitehorse has been closed since the start of the pandemic, and was sold by Landmark Cinemas a few months ago. The Yukon Film Society has now signed a lease to take over the facility and hopes to begin screening movies next month. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

Intermission will soon be over at the Yukon Theatre in Whitehorse, according to the Yukon Film Society.

The non-profit organization has just signed a lease to take over the aging and long-disused facility, and the goal is to get a projector fired up within weeks.

"It's an iconic building. I know it's really important to a lot of Yukoners. A lot of people have, you know, they have a lot of great memories there," said Andrew Connors, the society's artistic director.

"But I think for the film society, it's kind of the next step in our evolution."

The facility, along with Yukon's other movie theatre, has been shuttered since the start of the pandemic. When former owner Landmark Cinemas said a few months ago that the theatres had been sold, some residents wondered if the wrecking ball was on its way.

Connors said the film society has a lot of work to do in the next few months, to come up with a viable long-term plan.

"We've given ourselves basically five months, to operate the cinema part time," he said. "We want to see what people's response is."

'Let's face it, the town needs a movie theatre,' said Andrew Connors of the Yukon Film Society. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

The plan is to screen movies for two weeks each month, starting in December. Connors hopes to open the doors for the first two-week stint on Dec. 3, but he admits that may change depending on public health restrictions and the territory's COVID-19 state of emergency.   

The revived theatre would screen a mix of big-budget fare such as Dune or Spencer, along with "the classic art house and feature documentaries that we do at the Yukon Arts Centre on a fairly, you know, semi-regular basis," Connors said.

The theatre would also serve as an additional venue for the film society's annual Available Light Film Festival, something Connors has long has on his wish list.

'A dream come true if it's viable'

The five-month trial run will allow the society time to come up with a longer-term business plan. Connors envisions a single-screen, 250-seat theatre with a stage and "as large a cinema screen as we can put in there" (there are two screens in there right now, but Connors says they'll use just one in the coming months).

He's also hoping it won't just be a movie theatre, but ultimately become a sort of multi-use community arts space.

"It would be a dream come true if it's viable ... that's the goal."

The building dates to 1954, and Connors said it hasn't seen a lot of renovations or improvements since then. Many Whitehorse residents remember the shabby state of the theatre more than the movies they saw there.

Part of what the non-profit film society will be doing over the next few months is figuring out what renovation work needs to be done, and how it could raise the needed money. 

"You know, it's an accessibility report, an energy audit, we're going to look at the building structurally — like, what's it going to take and how much is it going to cost?" Connors said.

Meantime, the famously-filthy carpets have just been cleaned, he said.

"We're going to, you know, just give it attention in a way that, you know, that it hadn't had maybe for a few years ... really, the end goal is that renovation, and turning it into something that's a real sort of gem in the community," Connors said. 

"Let's face it, the town needs a movie theatre."

With files from Dave White