Independent film is alive and well in Calgary’s core
As big-box theatres stretch their reach into new communities, independent cinema is being kept alive in the heart of the city by two theatres that continue to draw a crowd, decades after they first opened.
The Plaza Theatre in Kensington and the Globe Cinema downtown have stood the test of time, as Calgary has shifted, expanded and sprouted skyward around them.
The Plaza began life as a garage in the 1920s, debuting as a theatre in 1935. It has held its ground over the years, as the area went from a little working-class community to a run-down relic in the ’70s, and finally became a revitalized, gentrified gem in the present.
“There are a lot of things about the Plaza that make it special,” said Logan Cameron, operations manager for the theatre.
“The classic feel of the whole place is one thing people come down for, and the arthouse films, local films and live performances. The stage really makes it different than anything else. The bathrooms are pretty sweet too.”
In a city that likes to “rip down and replace,” Cameron says the Plaza is a stalwart. The theatre has shied away from too much modernization, retaining a retro flavour where it’s still possible to stroll to the movies.
The Plaza’s unique character and diverse offerings keep it viable. At the theatre, local filmmakers showcase work, film festivals are hosted, old classics get screened, and the venue can be booked for weddings and parties. It’s also gearing up to offer live music and all-ages shows soon.
Plaza patron and local actor Joanna Iles says she’s always loved the place for its charm and “older vibes,” but its real magic struck her on a date with her now-husband Nathan to see ’80s classic Pretty in Pink. The pair even had their engagement photos taken at the theatre.
Attending the Late Night at the Plaza (LNATP) variety show on Wednesdays, Iles feels a sense of community.
“People get together and watch videos made by the LNATP team, and talk about the local news in a hilarious way,” she said. “They invite local bands to play on the stage and interview people in our community. Everyone is welcome and it’s a blast.”
The Globe also holds a special place in the city’s arthouse heart.
Opened in 1965, it was originally known as the Towne Cinema. Later, it was taken over by Landmark Cinemas. Now, the theatre is independent, owned by Rileys Enterprise Solutions.
Manager Jordan Schinkel says he strives to offer something unique in first-run films, independent films, documentaries, Canadian films and international fare.
In a world of streaming entertainment, this is stuff you can’t find anywhere else.
“It’s a mature atmosphere, with retrospectives, repertory stuff, films people haven’t seen before,” he said. “We’re doing a film noir series. We’re trying to revitalize arthouse cinema for Calgary.”
The Globe got its liquor license last year, which has created an extra draw for patrons, along with events such as the Calgary Underground Film Festival, Calgary International Film Festival and the GIRAF Festival of Independent Animation.
Both theatres are great supporters of local film, and provide legitimate and affordable venues where locals can showcase their work, says Barry Thorson, executive director of the Calgary Society for Independent Filmmakers.
“They have seating capacity that can accommodate very large turnouts, and it’s promising to filmmakers to have so many bums in seats,” he said.
Thorson says Patrons are getting something special from each theatre’s programming team and how they thoughtfully curate.
“It’s a breath of fresh air to step outside of the Hollywood first-run, and either into a retrospective of a filmmaker or actor’s work, or what’s new and what’s happening locally,” he said.