The Great Escape isn’t just the name of one of the greatest films of all time; it’s also a spot-on description of the medium of film itself. We’ve come a long way since the advent of moving pictures or those days at the height of the Depression era when the average price of admission was a quarter. Our stories have changed; our technology is rapidly evolving. But one of the most seismic shifts is how we watch films. Home rentals (remember VHS?) changed the game years ago, but that game has been upended again by streaming conglomerates like Netflix and Amazon Prime. Going to watch a new release in theatres is now all about up-selling: VIP tickets, D-box seats, 3D. And all of this takes place, of course, not in the tiny independent cinemas of yesteryear, but in those vast multiplex theatres where the hottest ticket always seems to be the blockbuster superhero movie of the moment.
Since we’re all about the beauty of experience and straying from the beaten path, we’re taking a moment to showcase some of our favourite haunts: Canada’s art house cinemas and independent theatres, which have managed to stay open thanks to unique and obscure programming as well as the kind of beautiful architecture that a person simply can’t find at a twenty-four-theatre venue in the nearest industrial park. It’s in these small, dark spaces that some of the most off-beat films are finding their audiences, and each of the theatres below is contributing to the fabric of Canada’s cultural identity.
Cinéma Moderne – Montreal
Source: Cinema Moderne
Located in the heart of Montreal’s historic Mile End neighbourhood, Cinéma Moderne opened its doors on September 17th, 2018, with a vow to offer Montrealers diverse programming. The cinema, co-founded by Roxanne Sayegh (formerly the executive director of the Montreal International Documentary Festival) and Alexandre Domingue (president and founder of the post-production and film equipment rental company Post-Moderne), features a unique programming model; each film is scheduled sporadically (as opposed to constant screenings in a week or two-week block), meaning a widely-varied roster at any given time. The venue is very tiny, with a mere fifty-four numbered seats available, and so viewers are encouraged to purchase tickets in advance. An added beauty of this venue is the Cinéma Moderne café-bar, where viewers can enjoy draughts from local breweries, signature cocktails, and wine, as well as meals and snacks.
Source: Cinema Moderne
Cinematheque – Vancouver
Pacific Cinémathèque was born as a film society over forty years ago and has served for decades as one of North America’s most active film organizations. It went on to establish a home of its own, and the theatre, offering one hundred and fifty-three seats in downtown Vancouver, is dedicated to “essential cinema” — that is, a carefully curated mixture of new releases, classics, and obscure gems. The Cinematheque functions as a community hub as well as a theatre, with a variety of public resources like a Film Reference Library, the West Coast Film Archives, a bi-monthly Cinematheque Program Guide, and educational programming. This is arguably the best spot in the province to catch a film made and produced locally in British Columbia.
Globe Cinema – Calgary
Source: Globe Cinema
The Globe Cinema in Calgary is proudly and fiercely independent. Located just around the corner from the University of Alberta’s Calgary Centre and one block away from the 6th street LRT station, the Globe totes itself as a classic movie house. The site, formerly Towne Cinema, was transformed into the Globe in 1995 and has been screening foreign films and unique art house fare ever since. This cinema houses two separate theatres, each of which seats three hundred and seventy-eight, and can be rented for private events and screenings. Be sure to book well in advance, as the Globe also plays host to some of the city’s annual film festivals, and the schedule can get crowded!
The Royal – Toronto
Source: The Royal
For cinephiles living in Toronto, the Royal is a go-to haunt for cult classics, film festivals you’ve likely never heard of, and quirky events. Nestled on the College strip in Little Italy, this cinema is the oldest on our list; it was originally built in 1939 (then known as the Pylon) and its maintained art deco style has made it one of the city’s most beloved landmarks. Popular events in the Royal’s Signature Series include Ladies of Burlesque (which pairs classic films with seriously sexy live performances), and the Neon Dreams Cinema Club (a monthly film series that showcases surreal neo-noir cinema of the 1970s, ’80s, and beyond). Aside from operating as a cinema and event hotspot, the Royal also serves as a film and television post-production studio for Urban Post; some of Canada’s hottest directors, like Atom Egoyan, Deepa Mehta, Bruce McDonald, and Kari Skogland, have all utilized the theatre to mix or edit projects.
Source: The Royal
Carbon Arc – Halifax
The Carbon Arc is especially beloved by Haligonians as it’s currently the city’s only independent cinema. Located in the city’s downtown neighbourhood between the scenic Public Gardens and Halifax Citadel National Historic Site, the Carbon Arc is largely volunteer-run and its screenings can be somewhat limited, with only a couple of weekly showings in the winter months. But these films are carefully selected by a programming team that seeks to showcase the work of East Coast filmmakers as well as the foreign language films you aren’t likely to find at the local Cineplex. Peppered on occasion throughout the roster are some cultural oddities you won’t want to miss — for instance, screenings of the most creative ads from Cannes.