Coalition of independent theatres urges changes to provincial liquor policies
A coalition of independent theatres, performance venues and film festivals are joining the Rio Theatre’s battle to change provincial liquor-licensing regulations.
The group has outlined its concerns in a letter to Rich Coleman, the B.C. minister responsible for liquor policies, following a policy directive last month that the coalition says has created problems for independent theatres across the province.
Ken Charko, the owner of the Dunbar Theatre and the vice-president of The Motion Picture Theatre Association of B.C., which represents over 35 independent theatres, joined Rio Theatre owner Corinne Lea at a press conference in front of the former Hollywood Theatre in Kitsilano today (March 21) to outline the coalition’s requests.
“The Hollywood Theatre, a great iconic theatre of Vancouver, closed down recently, we have the Van East theatre...that closed down just prior to that, we have the Rio Theatre in a big fight to be able to stay alive, and then we have the Ridge Theatre possibly going to be closing in the near future," said Charko.
“We want this to stop and for the government to talk to independent theatres—give us a call and hear from us what we’d like to see done.”
Lea said the provincial policy directive issued in February has created more restrictions for the industry.
“We formed a coalition to make everyone understand that this isn’t just a problem for one venue, this is a problem across the province for arts and culture venues, and it is a serious crisis,” she said.
The directive included a restriction on special occasion licenses for any event where the primary focus is the screening of films or broadcasts. Independent theatres like the Denman Cinemas have said the restriction impacts businesses like theirs, which rely on revenues from renting out their theatre to groups for film festivals and other events.
“As a result of these changes, theatres have had to cancel previous bookings that required a special occasion liquor license, which has caused further hardship to an industry that is already in crisis,” reads the letter signed by Charko, Festival Cinemas president Leonard Schein, and other venues, festivals and organizations including the Rio and Dunbar theatres, Denman Cinemas, the Rickshaw Theatre, the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, the Vancouver Queer Film Festival, and the Doxa Documentary Film Festival.
Vince Fairleigh, the former owner of the Hollywood Theatre, said independent movie theatres are “basically a public service”.
“It’s really not a big money-maker anymore,” he said. He noted measures such as staging live events like the Rio Theatre has been doing, or the ability to serve alcohol at theatres, could help cinemas like his former venue to stay afloat. The Hollywood Theatre, which closed in May 2011, was opened by Fairleigh’s great-grandfather, and had been run as a family business for 75 years.
“The health of our cinemas is really important for…artists and for the community,” said Mackenzie Gray, an actor, producer, director and writer, who also attended the press conference.
“Since the Hollywood closed, I can’t tell you how many people have been so sad that it’s gone, that you know they grew up here, they had great, formative experiences here,” he added. “When we had the 75th anniversary, it was packed to the rafters every night.”
Charko echoed Gray’s sentiment, describing independent theatres as an incubator for arts and culture in the province.
“Most independently-produced films that get a viewing in this province, get a viewing via the independent theatres within the province,” he said. “We help each other.”
Lea said she also wants to see the regulations changed to allow venues like hers to continue to screen films, without serving alcohol. Currently, she is able to host concerts and other live events at the East Vancouver theatre in the evenings, but can only screen movies during the daytime, outside of her liquor-licensed hours. She argued the options provided by the provincial government to delicense her venue permanently on certain days of the week, or to apply with three weeks notice to delicense for a specific event, are overly restrictive.
“The reason why we’re meeting today is because I don’t know how much longer the Rio Theatre can hang on,” she said. “I’ve been told that if I don’t comply with the regulations to only show movies matinees, that they’ll take away my liquor license.”
“My concern from an independent theatre perspective is that the Rio Theatre has started the battle and I’m concerned that they may lose it if Rich Coleman and the government doesn’t move quickly on some of the real simple things that need to be done to address that,” added Charko.
Coleman was not available for comment.