Is there a Hollywood ending for Nelson’s theatre?

As we drove into the Kootenay night following a convoy of 15 sets of red tail lights, I only had one thought in my mind: this sucks.

The Hunger Games is worth seeing

The Hunger Games is worth seeing

As we drove into the Kootenay night this past Saturday, following a convoy of 15 sets of red tail lights, I only had one thought in my mind: this sucks.

The Nelson Civic Theatre has become the hot issue of the week. It’s really no surprise.

After the Downtown Athletic Club pitched its excellent proposal last month at City Hall, panic spread amongst those who love to watch films on the big screen. For those who were sitting back waiting for somebody else to take the lead on saving the theatre, the time has arrived for real action. Like a Hollywood thriller… the clock is ticking down and a pulse popping last second scene is about to play out.

Personally, I’m torn. Since the theatre first went dark so many months ago, I’ve been anxiously awaiting the new era for movies in this community. Once I heard the proposal for the squash club and climbing wall, I saw a proposal that is solid and seems to make sense. But this past Saturday once again reminded me why the theatre is worth one last desperate fight.

Our family logs way too many kilometres on Kootenay roads. With two kids involved in hockey, baseball and soccer, life in rural Canada requires those passions to be pursued via highway travel. Through winter storm and spring rain, we’ve been shuttling our kids to games in Trail, Grand Forks, Nakusp and beyond for many years now.

Though the entire family loves watching movies on the big screen, we’ve only made the drive to Castlegar a couple times over the years. But with The Hunger Games frenzy sweeping across the world, and currently on a tiny break from the sports scene, on Saturday we thought it was time to hit the road.

With an 11 and 14 year old, there always needs to be friends involved, so we loaded up the mini-van and six of us headed west late Saturday afternoon.

The first stop was Boston Pizza. It was just after 5 p.m. and the place was jammed. We were not the only people who plotted a course of dinner and a movie.

After dropping $100-plus at the restaurant we headed to the theatre where there was a big line-up. The Hunger Games was in its second weekend and word was out that it was a must-see adventure.

Maybe it was the stench of Celgar in the air, but while standing in the pouring rain I was overcome by confusion. I knew every second person in the line-up. Was I in Nelson? What was going on? The sharp, skunky smell of the pulp mill brought me back to where I was. This was definitely Castlegar.

After dropping another $80-plus on admission and popcorn, we settled into our seats. As I looked around the theatre I again felt at home. At least 60 per cent of those waiting for the movie to start were faces I see in Nelson on a regular basis.

The entire family was thoroughly entertained by The Hunger Games. When the lights went up there was that typical mood of joy that follows watching a great flick.

By the time we filed outside and made our way to the mini-van, however, reality set in. Now the 30-minute drive back to Nelson on slick mountain roads. It wasn’t only the rain that dampened the mood.

The “this sucks” moment on the drive home was spurred by the reality of the situation.

Instead of seeing an awesome movie in a historic theatre after a wonderful meal in my own hometown, we had just spent $200 in a neighbouring community and braved crappy roads to get there. The giddiness the kids in the backseats felt after experiencing the way movies are supposed to be seen was great, but I didn’t want to tell them the next time they will get that experience will probably be six months or more down the road.

Having a movie theatre in Nelson is vital on so many fronts. Culturally, economically, socially, overall happiness… the checklist is long. In a perfect world — in this almost perfect community — the projector at the Civic Theatre would continue to work its magic.

Unfortunately, our imperfect world might have the last laugh.

The latest effort to save the theatre is heartening, but the challenges are going to be huge.

City council made the right decision to extend the time frame. The you-don’t-know-what-you-have-until-it’s-gone mentality has set in amongst theatre advocates. Time will tell whether they can muster the right stuff to save it. It won’t be easy.

Times are changing when it comes to entertainment options, but other communities like Salmon Arm have shown a theatre in a small community can work. That said, those hoping to save the Civic Theatre will need a small miracle like something out of a Hollywood script.

If the theatre is to be saved, it must be done without taxpayer support. Though the Downtown Athletic Club proposal appeals to a much smaller demographic, they are not asking for public dollars. During a time when council is cash-strapped and struggling to maintain current service levels, opening the purse strings for a movie theatre does not seem likely.

The non-profit route is the most plausible way to keep movies in that facility. If that’s the case, the public must support the theatre by opening their wallets.

The climax of this drama approaches. We’re all sitting at the edge of our seats, but in the end it will be you who writes the denouement.




Bob Hall is the editor at the Star. Email him at Follow him on Twitter @bobbyhall10