The Electric Theatre in Notting Hill has some similarities to Nelson’s Civic, but affordability isn’t one of them. Photo supplied

COLUMN: Unique cinemas from Notting Hill to Nelson

Large Popcorn, Extra Butter with Brian May

Brian May

Just over a month ago my travel companion and I were wandering along a road framed with multi-coloured 19th century buildings and eclectic signs. We were gazing at blocks of booths selling antiques, nick nacks, old cricket bats, jewelry, and way down at the far end fabulous food from a dozen countries. But we didn’t know that yet. We had been slowly navigating an unknown route to Portobello Road in Notting Hill and now it was 10:30 and we were hungry. That’s when we spotted the Electric Cinema Diner.

At first I only noticed people enjoying their avocado omelets and lattes in the window because, well, I was hungry. Then I saw their brochure by the counter and realized that right next door was the Electric Cinema. It had been built in 1910 — one of the first dedicated movie houses in the UK — and after nine lives it shut down and went into disrepair. Then in 2012 it was refurbished, re-energized and reopened. However, other than the history of closure and rejuvenation and the fact that, like The Civic, it was also showing Ocean’s 8 and was in a cool building, there wasn’t that much similarity to our theatre. They had furnished their space with 65 recliner chairs, large sofas in the back rows and double beds with blankets in the front row. Oh and they had that diner of course with great omelets. But they charged a lot more for this luxury, it wasn’t operated by a society, and it didn’t offer a variety of community programs.

This brings me to a confession. Last week the managers of the Nelson theatre were putting the final touches on a document that included a summary of all the programs the society has been putting into place. Frankly, I didn’t know about all of them and, despite what everyone says, my ignorance wasn’t really bliss. I should know this stuff.

As a charitable organization the society’s central goal is to serve the needs of our community. They want to fill the space with “programming that entertains, educates and inspires.” So, while the marquee sign shows that Jurassic World is playing, programs are developing behind the curtain. Programs that supports local filmmakers, encourage the appreciation of film as an art, create a communications technology hub to allow our rural area to participate in a global community, and collaborate with and support many other local groups.

These might sound like lofty planning document goals but they are tied to specific developments. The Civic will be the host opening day venue for BC Culture Days in September, a province-wide weekend featuring thousands of art, architecture, design and interactive public activities. They have also supported Nelson and District Arts Council’s Rural Artists Support Weekend, the Reel Youth Festival, the Films with Friends program to decrease community isolation, and partnered with numerous groups to host special film screenings. Earlier this year the theatre hosted the Smart Cities virtual dialogue event with partners in New York, and later this year comes the Disruptive Innovation Festival 5 with and TEDxNelson in 2021.

One of the most exciting programs though involves providing a home for screen based industry programming, research, and education events and building with over 250 professionals. As the initiative develops the society hopes to develop post-production facilities, provide equipment rentals and cultivate our residency program for artists to develop content.

These benefits aren’t seen by everyone who walks in the door for an evening film, but these are what will lead the Civic to have impact. So far there’s no talk of opening a diner to serve avocado omelets on a Saturday afternoon and there are way more places that do it better in this town. For now we’ll stick with cinema and communication and everything in between. On that note, it’s time for the young and young at heart to reach into their costume box, don their favorite super hero costume, and celebrate the showing of the The Incredibles 2. We didn’t bring this popular summer movie in on day one but we will enjoy it Nelson style.

Incredibles 2 shows from July 6 to 19 but this Saturday at 2 p.m. we’ll host a super hero party. Please dress appropriately.

See you at the Civic.

Brian May is a director of the Nelson Civic Theatre Society.

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