Locking down at home has not prevented programming director Richard Beer from curating an ongoing movie schedule for Vancouver’s only independent cinema, Kiggins Theatre.
“We just started Virtual Cinema,” Beer said last week. That’s a streaming service hosted by a company called Film Movement, which aims to bring the latest independent and art-house films to viewers’ home TVs or personal devices.
If you visit the Kiggins website and click your way through to what’s “Now Playing,” you can rent a film, via internet streaming, for a 72-hour period — and the Kiggins gets half the $12 ticket price.
“We treat them just like regular movies,” Beer said. “I’ll get a report on either Friday or Monday about how it did, and I’ll make a decision about rotating it through or holding it over if it did well.”
What’s not regular on the viewer’s end is creating an account and receiving an email with your viewing instructions from Film Movement Plus – Virtual Cinema. You’ll be able to watch on your internet-enabled TV, mobile device or your laptop computer, which you can connect to your TV via an HDMI cable for a bigger-screen view.
“It’s sort of like going to a theatrical experience, only you’re doing it at home,” Beer said.
The Liberty Theaterre of Camas signed up with the same Virtual Cinema service and ran into some website issues, according to owner Rand Thornsley, but everything should be up and running by the time you read this.
Film Movement, which specializes in new independent releases, was first to offer the Virtual Cinema service to local theaters, Beer said, but now, many more independent movie distributors are hurrying to catch up.
“A lot of them are coming on board. They’ve got product for the foreseeable future and no screens to put them on,” he said. “Instead of waiting it out like the major studios, and then having a major competition when things start happening again, they decided that this is the right time for streaming ‘little movies.’”
Another nice aspect of Virtual Cinema is its lack of boundaries, he added. Anyone in the U.S. or Canada can sign up and still choose Vancouver’s Kiggins as the middleman and beneficiary.
“It’s a way everybody at home can support the theaters they love. Everybody benefits,” Beer said.
The Kiggins, a classic movie palace that opened in 1936, has struggled in recent years to draw audiences to those “little” releases. But thanks to a few surprise indie blockbusters as well as popular community events like Science on Tap lectures and Comedy on Tap standup nights, last year turned out to be the theater’s best in owner Dan Wyatt’s memory.
“The end of 2019 was great,” Wyatt said. “We got to this nice level of sustainability. The beginning of this year looked good too. Then we suddenly had to hit the brakes.”
“We’ve been in a really big growth period,” Beer said. “Things were looking really good for the first time. There was light at the end of the tunnel, then this boulder blocked the front of the tunnel and we can’t see a thing.”
Beer said Kiggins fans have been showing their love by buying takeout popcorn (now discontinued) and gift certificates (always available online).
Wyatt, who was doing spring cleaning of boxes and junk in the Kiggins’ attic Thursday when The Columbian called him, said he’s staying resolutely optimistic.
“Movies don’t seem to die,” he said. “I’m a big fan of history, and we know that movies have survived the advent of radio and television. Is this just another thing we need to adapt and respond to?
“The bigger picture is, I wonder how this will change the industry and moviegoing in general,” he added. “Are people going to get used to this new model of consuming movies at home? Or will everybody have such cabin fever, they’ll flock back to theaters as soon as they can?”