Cloudy future for cinema
Movie theatre gets by, may not survive potential sale
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.
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.