Nova Scotia

'Zoning' problem leads Halifax indie cinema to join complaint against Cineplex

Halifax's only independent cinema has joined a national fight against Cineplex, accusing the movie mammoth of using its clout to keep new releases out of competing theatres, a practice known as "zoning."

Independent theaters accuse Cineplex of boxing them out of the movie market

Several independent movie theatres have formed the Network of Independent Canadian Exhibitors and are filing a complaint with Competition Bureau Canada. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

Halifax's only independent cinema has joined a national fight against Cineplex, accusing the movie giant of using its clout to keep new releases out of competing theatres.

Carbon Arc Independent Cinema is one of several indie theatres that make up the Network of Independent Canadian Exhibitors, which is filing a complaint with the federal competition bureau. 

They allege Cineplex Entertainment, which owns about 75 per cent of the screens in Canada, keeps distributors from sending films to independent theatres while those films play at a Cineplex in the same city, a practice known as "zoning."

"We're fighting for our audiences to have the opportunity to see great films, and to support local Canadian-made films because we're passionate about it and we want to build community," Carbon Arc founder Siloën Daley told CBC's Information Morning

She said Carbon Arc often has to wait to book films until Cineplex makes a decision on them, and can be left scrambling to promote the films and fill seats at the last minute.

Siloën Daley is with Carbon Arc Cinema, which operates out of the Museum of Natural History in Halifax. (Emma Smith/CBC)

Daley said Carbon Arc would like to screen some prestigious new releases, but it's not interested in most of the blockbusters Cineplex shows.

"Because they have over 16,000 screens across Canada, they're able to say they might show a movie and to sort of sit on it during its theatrical period and the independent cinemas may miss out on this theatrical window while Cineplex is deciding," she said.

Carbon Arc, a non-profit that's largely run by volunteers, shows films every Friday night in the fall and winter at the Natural History Museum on Summer Street. 

It gets access to films through agreements with Canadian distributors. But Daley alleges that some distributors have been threatened by Cineplex "to have other big titles pulled if certain films are made available to independent cinemas."

Cineplex Entertainment declined to be interviewed.

In an email, a spokesperson for the company said it doesn't own the rights to the movies and that it's up to film distributors to decide where they play their films.

The fight against Cineplex is led by the Rio Theatre in Vancouver, which started an online petition urging moviegoers to support independent theatres.

It says a lack of regulation in Canada means Cineplex's monopoly has gone unchecked for years and forced many small, independent theatres to close.

Daley said it's important for the federal government to get involved in preserving independent theatres, like the Oxford on Quinpool Road in Halifax, which closed its doors in 2017 after 80 years.

"It's sad to me that the government didn't step in to support the protection of this venue," she said. "Once you lose your cinemas, it's really difficult to get them back."

The Oxford Theatre shut down in 2017 after Cineplex sold the building to a developer. (Robert Short/CBC)

She worries things will only get worse now that U.K.-based Cineworld Group is set to take over Cineplex.

Carbon Arc was created after Wormwood's Dog and Monkey Cinema closed in north-end Halifax in 1998. Daley said ever since they've been trying to set up a permanent independent theatre space in the city.

While Carbon Arc currently operates out of the museum, it hopes to move into the proposed Culture Link facility in the former World Trade and Convention Centre on Argyle Street.

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With files from CBC's Information Morning

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