For Kathy Kay, her staff and volunteers with the Victoria Film Festival, Thursday’s shutdown of the Empire Capitol 6 Theatre didn’t come out of the blue.
The not-for-profit society has known since June the theatre would be closing. With the screens dark upstairs at the corner of Blanshard and Yates streets, however, festival supporters will be redoubling efforts to raise money for a portable digital projector that will enable the VFF to screen films large and small.
“Scrambling is probably the word for it,” Kay said Thursday, hours before the last shows were to screen at the multiplex, which opened in 1981 and replaced the old one-screen Capitol Theatre on the site.
“We have to find another venue, but one of our main problems now is the projection system. (The technology has) changed substantially this year.”
With primary distributors now sending out digital format films, Greater Victoria’s largest theatres – owned by Cineplex Odeon and Landmark Cinemas – have switched to the Digital Cinema Projection system.
The Vic Theatre, operated by the Victoria Film Festival for the annual 10-day extravaganza of films in February, as well as the Free-B Film Festival, special screenings and community rentals, does not have the updated technology. Kay said the goal is to install the digital projector there, but retain the flexibility to use the equipment at other venues.
Yet to be determined is the status of the theatre building, in which the festival has had an office since 2001. Not only has Empire – and Famous Players before them – heavily subsidized VFF’s rent, it has provided the two screens for free during the festival.
No imminent sale of the theatre property has been announced, which buys tenants such as the VFF and EasyHome some time to find a new home.
Empire spokesman Andrew Walker said in an email that the company intends to “realize the real estate value of the property at some point in the future, but no decisions have been made to date.”
Kay said she plans on speaking with Cineplex soon about possibly using some of its screens in town come festival time.
“For me I guess the emphasis right now is on the fundraiser to help us get through this and so the festival can thrive,” she said.
Empire Company Ltd., the parent to Empire Theatres and Sobey’s Inc. which owns Thrifty Foods locally, announced in June it was getting out of the theatre business and shifting those resources into its grocery business and real estate holdings.
That included eventually closing the Capitol 6, which was not among a group of theatres packaged for sale to Landmark Cinemas, which did buy the four-screen University Heights theatre from Empire.
Chard Developments owns the parking lot next to the theatre and owner David Chard has said he plans to develop a residential-commercial project spanning from Yates to View Street.
To donate to the Victoria Film Festival, visit http://bit.ly/1gofyYU.