There’s something about heading down to your iconic local cinema that just feels so inherently cool. If nothing more, it’s the inescapable feeling of nostalgia you experience once you step onto the cinema's sticky carpet and breathe in a deep whiff of freshly popped kernels.
Luckily, Montreal has its share of independent cinemas, with theatres such as the beloved Cinéma du Parc and Cinéma Beaubien to relatively newer options like Cinéma Moderne and, well, more unique options like historic (and merch-worthy) Cinéma L'Amour. These theatres are not only where indie films are screened – but where they are absorbed, shared, and debated once the curtains close.
Local cinemas can be paramount in uplifting their communities both economically and culturally, but above all, in introducing their audiences to films they’ll love and connect with. They can also nurture local culture, support local filmmakers, lease space for local artists or community members, and—in some cases—preserve historic buildings by continuing to occupy its space.
Yet, however nostalgic we may think or feel they are, indie theatres have come into a rather precarious situation as they face institutional barriers across the country.
Cinéma Public, housed in the fabulously Art Deco building known as Casa d'Italia, is among one of the key players in Montreal's indie film scene. Aude Renaud-Lorrain, Executive Director of Cinéma Public, had this to say about the current challenges these institutions are facing:
"We need to rethink [...] the film exhibition sector because independent theatres have a hard time accessing films for many reasons. Some of those reasons are related to the industry, like unfair exclusivity and zone restrictions, and others are related to government policies. And because of that, they are weakened."
– Aude Renaud-Lorrain, Executive Director of Cinéma Public
Renaud-Lorrain stressed the fact that independent theatres require support through public funding as "they play a positive role for culture and for communities, and play an essential role in preserving the diversity of Canadian and international voices on our screen."
The message is straightforward: Without the ability to show films they know their audiences will love, indie cinemas face significant barriers that can have drastic effects on their place in our cities and, ultimately, in our societies.
That’s where one Canadian initiative comes into play. NICE, short for Network of Independent Canadian Exhibitors, is composed of Canadian independent cinemas, festivals, and professional programmers that offer curated film programs to public audiences. NICE's mission is to share its belief that independent cinemas across Canada are vital in sharing stories and building a sense of community.
With this in mind, NICE has launched a campaign in which it proposes several initiatives to remove barriers that would help indie cinemas, including:
- Elimination of geographic ‘zones’ to allow independent cinemas to book films at the same time as large corporations like Cineplex, which represents 75% of the Canadian theatrical box office market share (and to which the same rules do not apply);
- Limiting ‘clean runs’ that reduce or eliminate the need to have any one single film playing in every showtime for multiple weeks at a time (particularly harmful for single-screen theatres), thereby empowering cinemas to schedule their own screens in a way that maximizes box office revenue;
- Commissioning a study around the impacts of the two points above, namely Cineplex's domestic market dominance and restrictive booking practices by major US studios on independent cinemas in Canada.
In a world where streaming has become king, seeking new avenues to uplift Canadian independent theatres has become a matter of preserving culture. Investing in initiatives that can help represent and support this industry is a step towards protecting the importance of indie cinemas and the communal experiences that come with it.
As an act of love and solidarity for the places we know and love, we invite you to take action now. Write an open letter to support your favourite indie cinema, or become a member of NICE if you share a passion for independent film and its future in Canada.