Right now, movie theatres are still having reels of film shipped tothem in canisters. A film can weigh up to 23 kilograms — asopposed to using a little 15×15-centimetre hard drive you just haveto plug into the digital projector. Initially, the digital moviesare being delivered by registered courier but will eventually betransmitted electronically or by satellite. Some movie distributors, such as Disney and Dreamworks, havealready switched entirely to digital. Sony doesn’t have many 35-mmprints anymore.
That has cut down on the number of movies availableto theatres. Digital should also allow for more options, such as showing liveconcerts, sporting events or low-budget films and lesser-knownproductions. City theatres are mostly on their way to converting. It’s in thecountry where the conversion is having the greatest impact. Manytheatres there would never be built today, based on currentpopulations and movie-going frequency.
The rural cinemas likely to survive are community-owned ones.Neepawa’s Roxy Theatre, run by a volunteer board, has alreadyraised $40,000 for a digital projector. The Royal Canadian AirForce Band performed a fundraiser, bringing in $2,500. The localco-op has chipped in $5,000, and Hylife Foods put in $7,500. The local high school band also performed recently, after a man intown pledged to match any money raised by students.
In Glenboro, the Gaiety Theatre, owned by the Glenboro CommunityDevelopment Corp., recently held a fundraiser, The Last Dinner onthe Titanic, where people could buy meals off the actual menu fromthe ill-fated cruise liner. First-class, second-class andthird-class meals sold for $200, $100 and $50 respectively. The Gaiety has also snagged grants from the Farm Credit Corp. andthe Manitoba Community Service Council.
Pioneer Grain, theRichardson family grain company, chipped in $2,500, as well as sixlocal people who put in $1,000 each. Meanwhile, the publicly owned Deloraine Winchester Theatre hasbegun a Pennies for Pictures campaign, with small jars fordonations strategically placed around town. Pennies are going outof circulation anyway, said Pam Hainsworth, the chief administratorfor the RM of Winchester. The community theatre has also applied for a grant from the federalNew Horizons for Seniors Program by promising to show matinees toseniors. The Strand Theatre in Melita and the Boissevain CommunityTheatre are also busy raising funds for digital equipment.
A few independents are here to stay, too, and have either convertedor are in the midst of converting. That includes the theatre inStonewall owned by Don Smith, as well as the theatre in Gimli. One private movie theatre owner is rumoured to have mortgaged hishouse to buy a digital projector. But others are sure to call it a wrap. The Lorne Theatre inSomerset, owned by Richard Raine, is certain to close.
The familyhas owned it for 25 years, and the theatre has operated sincebefore the Second World War. No one is offering public monies tothe privately owned theatres, Raine said. “Because we’re a private company, we can’t qualify forgovernment grants.” The Lorne Theatre used to get 1,300 people on a good weekend, andmost small-town theatres are open only on weekends. Now it’s morelike 50 to 70 people.
“We’ve just been working in it for free. We just like the ideaof showing movies,” said Raine, 52, a paramedic. The same goes for a lot of theatre owners in rural Manitoba. Other movie houses that could be on the chopping block include theDerrick Theatre in Virden, owned by brothers Randy and Rick Slater.
Meanwhile, movie theatres in the Parkland district took a big hitwhen the Dauphin multiplex opened last year. Ottawa ponied up $1.2million and the province $300,000 for the $4.7-million facility. Dean Salyn, who bought the Roblin Theatre just a year earlier, hasseen a marked drop-off in traffic since the Dauphin theatresopened. He wonders how small single-screen theatres can competewith that.
“Whether or not we can afford to change over is made moredifficult with a government-funded competitor,” said Salyn. Two or three cinemas could close in that Parkland region, he said. Salyn compares the co-existence of film and digital over the pastdecade to the automotive sector. “There was a time you could see a motor car andhorse-and-buggy on the road at the same time.
But you don’t seebuggies anymore, do you?” The drive-ins could be the biggest loss. There used to be 24 drive-ins in Manitoba: seven in Winnipeg and 17outside, said Russ Gourluck, whose book, Silver Screens on thePrairie, is an illustrated history of movie theatres acrossManitoba, due out this fall. “Of all the theatres likely to close, I think the drive-insare the most vulnerable,” said Gourluck. The Stardust first opened in 1952 in Saskatchewan and reopened inMorden in 1964.
The popcorn machine is the same age and still makeskettle-popped corn in coconut oil that tastes as good or betterthan product in new movie houses. Marlene Nelson grew up in the house next door to the drive-in andshe and her siblings all worked there as kids, walking home understarlit skies after a show. So it was natural for Nelson and her two brothers, Larry and Ken –the three of them also run Freund’s Auto Parts two doors down,started by their father — to buy the drive-in in 2002. The families work alternating weekends and then all help out forlong weekend triple features.
Their kids all help, and only receivewages on good nights. Friends pitch in, too. “The movie business just gets in your blood,” Nelsonsaid, something all movie theatre owners say one way or another. Joke: Why did the employees in the Department of Highways truckkeep driving past the drive-in movie theatre? Because there was more asphalt at the drive-in than anywhere else.Badabing! Stardust co-owner Nelson told that joke but blamed it on one of herbrothers. Of course, the drive-in is still a great place to take a date butcouples be warned: They’ve stopped showing the boring secondfeature.
They’re great family entertainment. Grandparents bring grandkids intheir pajamas. Or people can stay overnight at the Stardust inMorden. It recently installed 14 fully service campsites.
Families can campat the back and watch a movie from the vehicle, lawn chair or evenover a campfire. Of course, that makes the cost much moreaffordable for families from out of town. Many people bring lawn chairs. That’s Nelson’s favourite way towatch a movie, sitting outside with her girlfriends. The sunsets are beautiful, too, she adds.
Some people have watched movies at the Stardust from a portableJacuzzi. Once a mom wanted to do something different for her daughter’s 16thbirthday. So she had her daughter and friends taken to the Stardustin a limousine. Some girls watched from lawn chairs and some fromthe limousine, parked sideways.
“You’ve got to let them have fun as long as they’re notbothering anyone,” said Nelson. The drive-ins show second-run movies. Morden is about an hour’sdrive from the junction of the Perimeter Highway and Highway 3.Upcoming movies can be checked at websitestardustmorden.tripod.com, but it’s not updated as often asit should be. Nelson and her brothers don’t want to close the drive-in. “You’re just going, ‘How in the world are we going to pay forit?’ ” she said.
“We’re going to need help.” No can do, said Morden Mayor Ken Wiebe. Wiebe was matter-of-fact about the drive-in’s fate. “It’s one of these things where things change. I can rememberwhen the drive-in was full on a Friday or Saturday night.
Thosedays are gone. It’s a fact of life,” Wiebe said. The mayor supposes the Stardust attracts people to Morden butcouldn’t venture a guess on its economic impact. Regardless, thetown can’t help.
“How do you put community money into a private business? Itwould become a taxpayers-funded private enterprise.” Nelson thinks the drive-in adds more to a community than peoplerealize. The Stardust lures many Winnipeggers to Morden on summerweekends, and tourists go out of their way to make overnight stops,Nelson said. “I should have a guest book.” Killarney Mayor Rick Pauls thinks the Shamrock Drive-In is a jeweland the community has to do everything possible to keep it. It makes business sense, too, he said.
People from North Dakotaregularly drive up to catch a movie; others come from Brandon andfrom across Canada. “It puts us on the map,” said Pauls. He is pushing to find some way to keep the drive-in, whetherthrough fundraisers such as socials, or perhaps finding a way theprojector can be put to use in the off-season to help defray costs. “It would be a huge loss” for Killarney if the Shamrockclosed, he said.
“It’s part of our heritage. It’s part of aNorth American phenomenon that’s disappearing.” The Struss family doesn’t want to close it, either. The movie bugbit them hard after just one year. “We know it won’t pay for itself,” said Joanne Struss,about a digital projector.
But it’s almost a heart-versus-moneyissue. “The drive-in has been part of my life since childhood,”said Joanne, who grew up in Killarney and recently moved back withher family. “It’s one of those things you hate to see die.” firstname.lastname@example.org Manitoba’s drive-Ins Seven in Winnipeg included the Pembina Drive-In, built in 1949,where the Bishop Grandin overpass is today; the El Dorado Drive-In(1950), where Sobey’s is on Henderson Highway; North Main Drive-In,where the Copacabana was from 1950 to 1980; the Airport Drive-In,next to the old Airline Motor Inn on Ellice Avenue, which moved toSteinbach and became the Skyline; the Circus Drive-In (1952), nearthe Westwood Inn on Portage Avenue; the Starlite Drive-In, offRegent Avenue; and the Odeon Drive-In in Headingley, the lastbuilt, 1963, and the last to close, 2007. Outside the city, some of the drive-ins included the LockportDrive-In; the Circus Drive-in in Portage la Prairie; the AirlineDrive-In in Neepawa, owned by Izzy Asper’s parents, Leon andCecilia Asper; the Green Acres Drive-In in Brandon; the Lucky Starin Souris.
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