Will the Sunday, January 22, screening of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo go down in history as the last film that played at the Rio Theatre? Or is it not quite the end of the story?
As they say, stay tuned, true believers.
The East Vancouver movie theatre's bid to obtain a liquor licence has been an ongoing rollercoaster.
On January 19, owner Corinne Lea announced that the venue would be granted its long-awaited liquor-primary licence. In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight, Lea claimed that she was advised by a consultant that she could continue showing movies part-time without bar service (and serve alcohol only during live events).
However, during the final inspection later that same day, a condition was added to her licence that stated she would not be able to show movies at any time.
Liquor Control and Licensing Branch general manager Karen Ayers told the Straight by phone from Victoria that Lea's interpretation of her licence was erroneous. She explained that Lea had been previously informed verbally and in writing that she couldn't operate as a movie theatre, and the term and condition was added "to ensure that there could be no further communication that she wasn’t aware or didn't understand the terms and conditions of her licence."
Although Lea acknowledged the verbal and written warnings, she noted that her licence only applied to evening hours (such as from 6 p.m. onward). Ayers clarified that those hours pertain to "when her licence permits her to sell alcohol" but that the Rio Theatre is licensed at all times.
Lea had also raised concerns about the licence identifying her venue as a "movie theatre" rather than a "multimedia venue". Ayers said that was a "moot point".
"It's not the term and condition itself which prohibits from operating as a movie theatre," Ayers said. "It's the liquor and control licensing act regulation."
Ayers explained that the reason the regulation is in place is because of public-safety issues. "A large number of moviegoers are youth and families and there's some fairly unique challenges posed by movie theatres in terms of ensuring minors don't have access to alcohol," she said. "Typically movie theatres are dark. When the movie is in play, there typically are no staff within the theatre for the duration of the movie. And so B.C., like all other provinces in Canada, specifically precluded movie theatres from being licensed for that reason."
Although Ontario has changed its laws, Ayers said that liquor licences are only issued in that province to theatres that permit audience members who are 19 years and older. Ayers said she had confirmed that Manitoba, which recently announced it will change its liquor laws as well, has the same intent.
Similarly, the Vancity Theatre is able to serve alcohol at its venue partly because the Vancouver International Film Centre is an adults-only society; attendees have to purchase a $2 membership and members have to be 18 years and older.
"You're able to enjoy the benefits of a film society if you follow all the rules regulating film societies. And so one of the benefits is that films do not need to be classified," VIFC director Alan Franey said by phone. "On the obligation side, to be a film society, you have to be registered in law, you need to be non-profit, and you need a board of directors, and all that stuff, like the [Pacific] Cinémathèque has and we have. So the fact that we are a film society helps the governing authorities for liquor licences acknowledge that we don't have under-age people."
However, Franey added that they still had to "go through quite a few hoops" because of the discrepancy between the 18 year minimum membership age and the 19 year legal drinking age.
What's more, alcohol is only permitted to be served and consumed in the VIFC atrium, not in the theatre seating area.
Ayers said she expects the Rio Theatre's licence to be issued some time this week, but the specific date was to still be determined.
Vancouver city councillor Heather Deal has also placed a notice of motion to address the Rio Theatre's situation at the next Vancouver city council meeting to be held on January 31. She reportedly hopes to lobby the provincial government to revise its liquor laws. Deal did not return a call to the Straight by the time of this posting.
Ayers said that the process for repealing the licensing regulation would require discussion of how civic and provincial governments would work together on the issue. Once the regulation is repealed, however, she said that "licensing could occur reasonably expeditiously".
You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at twitter.com/cinecraig.