To the delight of Nelson movie buffs, the Civic Theatre came back to life this year.
In the fall of 2012, the City of Nelson, which owns the building, granted a non-profit society the chance to see if it could do what the private sector could not — turn the empty Civic into a functioning moviehouse again.
Despite many challenges, they succeeded. The floor was sanded and painted, 250 seats were installed at the front of the auditorium, and with much difficulty, a 35 mm copy of the James Bond film Skyfall was found and screened on February 22 — the first movie in the old theatre in nearly 2½ years.
The Civic hosted a sold-out gala that included people dressing up as Bond characters greeted by screaming paparazzi on a red carpet. People also lined up down the street to get into the regular Saturday screening, and folding chairs were put out after all the plush seats were full.
“It absolutely showed that people want their movie theatre back,” said the society’s Roger Ley.
But it was clear a digital projector would be needed to keep the enterprise afloat, as many studios refuse to ship reels anymore. They aren’t cheap.
So the society launched an ambitious campaign to raise $150,000, which would also pay for a new surround sound system. An anonymous donor kicked things off with a $60,000 donation to add to $15,000 previously collected.
A community challenge was issued to come up with the rest by May 1. The response was heartening but with two weeks left, the society was still $30,000 short. They needn’t have worried. The total, Ley informed a crowd of supporters outside the theatre, was $181,425 — $30,000 more than needed.
Part of that beefed-up figure was thanks to the Hume Hotel Group, who offered to match every dollar the group exceeded its goal by up to $5,000 and a second anonymous donor who matched what the Hume put in. The extra $31,000 raised in the final three days went toward lobby and bathroom renovations.
The Civic’s final 35 mm movie, My American Cousin, screened on May 25, and the first digital film with the new projector was Star Trek: Into Darkness on June 14 — another gala event with lots of costumes.
While the theatre was only open one weekend a month at first, following digitization it expanded to five days a week. There have been many more full houses since, including for first-run showings of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug.
For those skeptical about the value of resurrecting in a movie theatre in the days of Netflix, DVDs, and giant home entertainment systems, Jocelyn Carver put things in perspective in a letter to the Star: “For the first time, my 13-year-old daughter went to a movie with a couple of her teenage friends on their own, amongst neighbours and acquaintances. She had an incredible, memorable time.”
Leading up to the society’s annual general meeting in September, it looked as though it might be a victim of its own success, for the constitution required 10 per cent of the membership to make a quorum. There were by now more than 2,000 members, and they needed 212 to show up. Not a problem — close to 300 people came. (They amended the bylaw.)
The society still plans to add two more screens by early 2015. It could cost up to $2.5 million, but they say it’s essential to succeed as a non-profit and keep film distributors happy.