Cloudy fu­ture for cin­ema

Movie the­atre gets by, may not sur­vive po­ten­tial sale

The Compass - - NEWS - BY AN­DREW ROBIN­SON

The Car­bon­ear Cin­ema has be­come some­thing akin to an old comfy chair in a liv­ing room — it’s al­ways there, man­ag­ing to serve its pur­pose in spite of the pres­ence of newer op­tions for com­fort.

In Gan­der, the movie the­atre has been closed for over three years. The Burin Penin­sula used to have three movie the­atres, but only one re­mains. Grand Falls-Windsor has one, but that too has ex­pe­ri­enced hard­ships, hav­ing closed and re­opened mul­ti­ple times within the last decade.

But the Car­bon­ear Cin­ema is still run­ning, but “ by the skin of its teeth,” ac­cord­ing to owner Keith Oates. Whether it will con­tinue to screen movies for years to come on Pow­ell Drive in Car­bon­ear is de­bat­able.

For about a year and a half, the site of Trin­ity Con­cep­tion’s only movie the­atre has been on the mar­ket, and Oates says its sale is not con­tin­gent on the build­ing’s con­tin­ued us­age as a cin­ema.

“I’d like to see some­one buy (the cin­ema) and take it over, but whomever has the money can buy it and do what­ever they want with it.”

The clo­sure of the cin­ema would mark the end of an era for movie­go­ers in the re­gion, who’ve been at­tend­ing screen­ings at Car­bon­ear Cin­ema since Rocky II opened in 1979.

In the 1970s, Keith’s fa­ther Tom pur­chased equip­ment from the old Bond The­atre to start up a cin­ema at the Orange Hall in Car­bon­ear for one year. Tom then moved back into the Bond The­atre, which was even­tu­ally closed by the fire depart­ment, be­fore build­ing what has served as the site of the Car­bon­ear Cin­ema for 31 years. Since then, the the­atre has screened close to 2,000 dif­fer­ent films, show­ing dou­ble­fea­tures in its early days.

Keith Oates says the the­atre has man­aged to get by in re­cent years, and his ded­i­ca­tion to keep­ing it open stems from his fam­ily’s con­nec­tion to the movie busi­ness.

“ You get in the movie busi­ness, and it re­ally gets in your blood,” he says, adding the de­sire to sell sim­ply stems from the need to try some­thing dif­fer­ent.

“It’s just time for a change,” says Keith, who op­er­ates the film pro­jec­tor him­self most nights.

There had been four the­atres in the re­gion decades ago, and Keith says the his­tory of movie the­atres in Car­bon­ear stretches back to the 1920s.

The hard­ships felt by the Car­bon­ear Cin­ema can be linked to the growth of the movie busi­ness in St. John’s. With 12 screens at the Avalon Mall that can ac­com­mo­date the presently trendy 3D flicks, Keith says many movie­go­ers from this re­gion are more in­clined to see a movie on a trip to the city.

The biggest movie of 2010 is Avatar, a sci­ence-fic­tion film com­bin­ing live ac­tion scenes with com­puter an­i­ma­tion. Its North Amer­i­can box of­fice haul of $760 mil­lion ranks as the great­est of all time — not count­ing for in­fla­tion. Ben­e­fit­ing from an ad­vanced 3D pre­sen­ta­tion, the film gen­er­ated a lot of re­peat-busi­ness. How­ever, Keith says when the movie played for a week in Car­bon­ear last sum­mer, it per­formed poorly. This may have been be­cause most peo­ple lo­cally who wanted to see it had al­ready done so in St. John’s.

Down­load dilemma

Then there’s also the mat­ter of movie pi­rat­ing. Movies that open in North Amer­ica on a Fri­day are of­ten il­le­gally avail­able on­line the next day, usu­ally in the form of poor-qual­ity dubs shot in a the­atre on a cam­corder.

“It’s a big hurt,” says Keith. “ We can show a movie here and a feller will say, ‘I’ve al­ready seen that.’ I’ll ask how, and he’ll say, ‘On my com­puter.’”

This sce­nario may not be helped by the fact the Car­bon­ear Cin­ema typ­i­cally screens movies two-to-three weeks af­ter a film has al­ready opened. Keith says it may screen seven-to-eight movies per year on their open­ing week­end. The cin­ema must wait for films run­ning in St. John’s to have their screen­ings re­duced be­fore it can re­ceive a film print — un­less Keith is will­ing to pay $2,000 for his own print.

A movie the­atre must also com­pete with snazzy home en­ter­tain­ment sys­tems decked-out with widescreen hi-def­i­ni­tion tele­vi­sions play­ing state-ofthe-art Blu-ray discs or DVDs.

“ Technology is way ahead now com­pared to what it was (in 1979),” says Tom Oates, who still helps out with the the­atre.

The the­atre has tried to mod­ern­ize its setup in re­cent years, mov­ing from a mono sound sys­tem to eight-track stereo, for ex­am­ple. Other in­no­va­tions, like 3D, are sim­ply be­yond the the­atre’s means. A 3D pro­jec­tor alone costs over $100,000.

Tom Oates ex­pects 3D films will be the way of the fu­ture, and he says they may even sup­plant 2D films en­tirely.

Nowa­days, Keith says fam­ily fea­tures and light-hearted com­edy-dra­mas some­times called “chick-flicks” are known to per­form well lo­cally. In the past, he says horror films were able to at­tract large au­di­ences, but in more re­cent times, they have taken a nose­dive in ticket sales.

“ The trends change over the years,” he says. “One time, you’d get a good horror flick and you were guar­an­teed a full house. But it’s hit or miss now.”

Fam­ily films at­tract kids and their par­ents, who also con­trol the dol­lars for con­ces­sion­ary pur­chases; the chick-flicks bring in groups and cou­ples. If busi­ness war­rants it, the cin­ema will hold mati­nee screen­ings for fam­ily films on the week­end.

Pho­tos by An­drew Robin­son/The Com­pass Keith Oates is usu­ally in charge of the pro­jec­tor when a film is screened at the Car­bon­ear Cin­ema. Oates says while he would like to see the the­atre con­tinue to op­er­ate if he finds a buyer, the cin­ema stay­ing open will not be a pre-con­di­tion for any sale made of the prop­erty on Pow­ell Drive.

While many other ru­ral movie the­atres in New­found­land and Labrador have come and gone, the Car­bon­ear Cin­ema re­mains open … for now. Owner Keith Oates is look­ing for a buyer.

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