Filmmaker fears pandemic could be the final curtain for movie theatres

WINNIPEG — After some pandemic-related delays, former Winnipegger and filmmaker Steven Kostanski is excited for the release of his latest film on Friday. He only wishes more people could see the film – or any movie – at the theatre.

“Going to the theatre is the only way to really enjoy the full spectacle of a movie and the communal experience of it is important,” said Kostanski. 

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Kostanski’s new movie, the horror-comedy ‘PG: Psycho Goreman’ is set in a fictional Manitoba town. Kostanski also drew inspiration from his youth in Winnipeg for the plot of the film.

As a kid, Kostanski used to rent movies on the weekend that he was probably too young for at the time. He used that childhood experience as inspiration for the movie which follows two young kids befriending an evil space warlord. 

Just as movie rental stores are part of a bygone era in the movie-watching experience, Kostanski fears the same may be true of the movie theatre. 

“I just hope that there’s some way that when things do get back to some form of normal we’re able to recreate that experience,” he said. 

Movie theatres in Manitoba have been closed for months due to Code Red restrictions. Theatres have been forced to close or reduce capacity nationwide, too. 

To compensate, some studios and theatres – like Winnipeg’s only independent movie house Cinematheque – are releasing films digitally. 

“I think a lot of plans were shifted to start putting things online instead of waiting until theatres are open again,” said Jaimz Asmundson, programming director for Cinematheque, operated by the Winnipeg Film Group. 

Cinematheque plans to keep organizing virtual events and film releases even when it can reopen to the public, Asmundson said. 

There is, however, a downside to a digital release.

“If you’re watching at home and you’re watching with your roommate or partner then we’re already losing half the revenue right there because otherwise, you both would be paying,” said Asmundson, also noting the theatre would also lose potential concession stand sales. 

Cinematheque, unlike most other independent movie theatres, is supported by municipal, provincial and federal funding, which largely allows the theatre to keep organizing virtual programming amid the pandemic. 

Asmundson said it must be far more difficult for other independent theatres that are likely struggling under pandemic-related restrictions. 

But the dawn of digital releases doesn’t necessarily herald the end of the movie theatre experience, University of Manitoba film studies professor Brenda Austin-Smith said.

“There is going to be some nervousness,” said Austin-Smith. “But that is also going to rub up against the desire that many of us have to have a social experience again.”

A mixed-model where studios release films digitally and in-theatre is also a possibility, Austin-Smith said. 

“We won’t know for a while how this is going to shake out but I expect there will be many of us who will hunger for the in-person experience.”  

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