Empire Granville 7 Cinemas is currently bustling with its annual influx of Vancouver International Film Festival moviegoers. But all of that will be a thing of the past when Granville Street's last surviving cinema, once part of what was known as Theatre Row, closes on November 4.
By phone from Halifax, Empire Theatres vice-president Dean Leland explained the reason for the closure of the seven-screen theatre, which Empire purchased in 2005.
"Attendance levels at that theatre have been sliding for a couple of years now, given the competitive landscape in the area, and that current theatre is not state of the art and not really what our guests are looking for versus some of the other venues in the city. We looked at many options on what we could or might be able to do there, but none of them were of a viable nature so we made the decision that following the Vancouver International Film Festival and…[the South Asian Film Festival] that we would close the operation."
Leland said that the location's 20 part-time employees will be given the opportunity to consider employment at their two other Metro Vancouver theatres: Esplanade 6 in North Vancouver and Empire Studio 12 Guilford in Surrey. Empire closed Oakridge Cinemas on January 2.
"Given our choice, we would have loved to have stayed there," Leland said about Oakridge. "Our lease ran out and the landlord wanted that space for another purpose."
Leland said that Empire builds about two or three theatres per year, but aren't currently looking at anything in the Vancouver core.
The theatre screened second-run Hollywood fare as well as some occasional independent, Canadian, Bollywood, and Filipino movies.
Numerous local film festivals that utilized the venue, including the DOXA Documentary Film Festival, the Vancouver Latin American Film Festival, and the UBC Persistence of Vision Film Festival, will also be affected.
Out on Screen director of partnerships and marketing Paul Crosby said the Vancouver Queer Film Festival had used the venue since 2005.
"It's definitely going to be a hit for us," he said by phone. "We've been lucky to work with Granville 7 for a number of years now and as we go into our 25th anniversary next year, we'll be looking at different theatres to close that gap of dates that we used for that venue….It's going to be tricky, especially with ourselves being a small arts organization. It's tricky finding those venues to see what's going to be the best fit for our moviegoers and for ourselves. It's definitely a concern for us, and for other festivals in town as well."
Vancouver International Film Festival director Alan Franey lamented the loss of the affordable venue, which they had used for 11 years. He noted that they could face increased costs at other venues, in addition to other concerns.
"The most dramatic difference will be that we lose a central hub where so many screenings are under one roof, and we will we not have that Granville Street presence, for better or worse," Franey said by phone. "I have to say it's a mixed blessing being on Granville Street because it's just become such a problematic area. I think there's so much homelessness and our international visitors who have been coming for many years ask, 'How can the city let this happen?' "
For future festivals, Franey said they will be considering alternate venues, including SFU Woodward's, the Rio Theatre, the Vancouver Playhouse, Festival Cinemas locations, and Cineplex Odeon International Village. He also said that they're investing in the cinema presentation at the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts, which is being used for their closing gala on Friday (October 12).
Franey listed off 20 former venues that VIFF has used during its 31 years in existence which are now closed, including the Blinding Light!! Cinema, CN IMAX (at Canada Place), Discovery, Robson Square, Royal Centre, the Starlight, Vancouver Centre, Van East Cinema, the Varsity, and Theatre Row venues such as Capitol 6, Caprice, Paradise, and the Plaza.
Franey pointed out that movie theatres are now underrepresented in the downtown core, with only the Cinematheque, Vancity Theatre, and Scotiabank Theatre Vancouver remaining. He cited online competition and parking issues as concerns but added that real estate values "are the main driver for why new theatres are being built on the perimeters of cities rather than in the centres". He noted that this is "a phenomenon throughout North America".
He also expressed concerns about the loss of other cultural venues, including book and music stores.
"The larger issue that concerns me is the viability of not just film exhibition but cultural products that used to have a better market that's been really challenged by the internet and free downloads," he said.
Other recent movie theatre closures include Denman Cinemas, Station Square Cinemas, Hollywood Theatre, and Famous Players Richmond Centre 6 Cinemas. The Ridge Theatre has a lease until September 2013 but may close earlier if its landlord uses a demolition clause.
You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at twitter.com/cinecraig.