East Vancouver's Rio Theatre is in its final stretch of its campaign to purchase the theatre

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      You're forgiven if you're confused about the current status of the Rio Theatre.

      The fundraising campaign to save the venue has been going on for so many months that operator Corinne Lea told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview that she feels like she's been running a marathon. However, she added that "because this has been such a long process, the hardest part…[has been] making our message really clear".

      To back up a bit, the 80-year-old theatre is part of a 6,350-square-foot property at East Broadway and Commercial Drive, which was put up for sale by the owners in January.

      Lea and her business partner Jonathan Kerridge offered to buy the theatre and a crowdfunding campaign raised $500,000 by April.

      So far, they've raised 75 percent of the $3.9 million needed for the down payment but still need to raise the remaining 25 percent, and are now focussing on investors, in order to close the deal.

      Their final deadline is July 7.

      Lea said she's aware that there may be audience fatigue from the campaign but is grateful for everyone's patience and support, which has helped to prevent her from burning out herself.

      "It is exhausting but the other side of it, which is amazing, because the community is so supportive, I feel like they keep my energy up," she said.

      Rio Theatre operator Corinne Lea

      Industry gets involved

      Some of that support has been coming from local screen industries.

      Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) executive director Jacqueline Dupuis said they are still working out how they will support the Rio "while working within confines of not-for-profit budget", but  in the meantime, they have been raising awareness among their own audiences about progress of the Rio campaign.

      Dupuis explained that as they've witnessed many cinema venues in the city either close down, change focus, or face challenges, they're interested in "ensuring there is appropriate cultural and cinema space in the city" and to address the "shortage of venues that program art-house cinema".

      As one of several venues that VIFF uses during its annual festival run, Dupuis said that the Rio, which is the last movie theatre in East Vancouver, helps them to reach an audience they might not otherwise see at their own venue or other venues.

      Meanwhile, Vancouver Film School (VFS) marketing director Christopher Bennett said his institution is getting involved for reasons to do with the art of filmmaking. (Although he couldn't disclose details of the deal, they will be acquiring a small percentage of ownership of the Rio.)

      "We're not talking about saving the Rio because movies and the moviegoing experience is dying—I would think that's very much the opposite," he said by phone. "Why we're interested in supporting them first and foremost is because they have a demonstrative history of being such fierce protectors of the spirit of indie filmmaking."

      Bennett opined that there wouldn't be any blockbusters, iconic film and TV programs, or cult classics without independent filmmaking, which requires venues that will screen such works. Unfortunately, many venues and multiplexes shy away from doing so.

      "In a money-driven economy, very few theatres will risk showcasing indie films because they're putting the mass appeal of a film ahead of the importance of that kind of film, and that's what you've got to preserve," he said. "It [saving the Rio] was about preserving an identity that's really important in the evolution of storytelling in film and television."

      He also cited the Rio as a place where their students and alumni have shown their first or upcoming works. Perhaps the most famous alum example has been filmmaker Kevin Smith (Clerks, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back).

      Lea said that Kevin Smith donated his time for two sold-out fundraising shows in March to save the Rio.

      "It still blows me away that he even, after having a heart attack, still came out and did that," she said.

      Another celebrity supporter has been Vancouver-grown Hollywood star Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool 2), who donated and raised awareness about the campaign.

      Yet another celebrity helping hand is on the way.

      Hometown funnyman Seth Rogen has pre-recorded a special message that will be presented prior to the fundraising screening of Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary on June 26, in addition to a Skype Q&A with director Brent Hodge (A Brony Tale).

      The power of the people

      The high-profile support is one aspect that marks this campaign as different from their previous uphill battle to obtain a liquor license, which began in November 2010 and continued into 2012.

      Lea said that the campaign for liquor license, which she describes as "extremely stressful" was "a bit more of a desperate kind of experience" because they were facing prospect of theatre going out of business at any moment.

      However, she witnessed something invaluable during that time period: how much the community supported them and what the place meant to them.

      "One of the things I learned from that campaign, in getting the liquor laws changes, was how powerful our community is," she said.

      That's what inspired her idea to get the community to invest in the theatre.

      "It actually dawned on me that the community is my partner because they've been with us all the way along and they're the ones that are always there when we need them when we're trying to get something done," she explained.

      Rio Theatre
      Craig Takeuchi

      When asked what her backup plan is if she's unable to reach her financial target, Lea said there isn't a plan B and that failure truly is not option.

      "We have come so far with this campaign and fundraising and everything that to give up on it and it would be so much work to have to go back that I can only see going forward," she said.

      However, if, ultimately, they are unable to buy Rio, investors will have all of their money, which is being held in trust, returned to them.

      She pointed out that she still has a guaranteed three-year lease with an option to renew for another five years after that, but a demolition clause means that a developer can remove her after three years.

      In the meantime, investors can still get involved through their equity crowdfunding campaign on Frontfundr or accredited investors can contact Lea directly by email.

      Other upcoming fundraisers include an Italian Heritage Month screening of Cinema Paradiso (June 19) and a live podcast taping and movie-interruption screening of Twilight: Breaking Dawn—Part 2 with comedian Doug Benson (June 24) and guests. For full details, visit the Rio Theatre website.

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