It’s a Tuesday afternoon and Lowell Bradley is busy sweeping the foyer floor of the Castle Theatre in Castlegar.
The work never really ends at the 70-year-old movie theatre, which his family’s owned for the last 13 years.
“When we got this place, we had to do a lot of repairs, a lot of renovations, and we both had full-time jobs,” he says. “This has been mainly a hobby on the side, up until this year. But in the last year, that’s when you started to see more activity.”
What cinema lovers have seen is an ongoing, ever-changing lineup of classic and second-run movies, usually playing just for a night.
Yes, Castlegar has its own repertory cinema — the only one in the West Kootenay.
“We’ve decided to run a monthly western, a monthly classic, and a monthly musical,” he says. “We do a free family movie, usually one more animated, and we just started running a young adult/teen movie, to offer something for teens as well.”
Earlier this fall it was Casablanca, and the Rocky Horror Picture Show on Halloween. When the Castlegar News visited, True Grit was on the marquee, a 1960s John Wayne cowboy movie.
The move to showing second-run and classic movies is as much a function of what the theatre’s capable of at this time — the equipment needed to play first-run, blockbuster movies is just a little out of range for the cinema right now.
“As of right now, our film licence, we are limited to certain studios and film companies,” Bradley says. “But there’s a huge list, thousands of films, and we can screen those movies for one night.”
But even if they had the capability, it might not be in the theatre’s interest to be under the thumb of today’s big studios.
“If you have first-run stuff you get locked into contracts and have to show the movie so many times in so many weeks. So with our licence, you have more freedom, but it’s usually older content or you have to wait two to three months, depending on the popularity of the film.”
The second-run films come cheap enough that a small audience won’t break the bank — and the theatre can offer free family movie days, where the concession sales can cover the cost of the film and contribute to keeping the theatre open.
The theatre’s also rentable for live music performances, birthday parties, meetings and even weddings, supplementing the business income.
“So if we have a movie and five people show up, people ask, ‘How do you get by?’” says Bradley. “It’s all the other stuff.”
But can Castlegar — a city without a second-hand book store— support a repertory cinema?
“There is some culture in our town,” says Tammy Mandel, Bradley’s partner. She’s got the greatest job in Castlegar, picking movies to show at a theatre. “Our audience for those is a bit of an older, or middle-aged audience. So you kind of go with what’s working.
“Most of our movies are alternatives compared to what’s happening at the Uptown,” says Mandel, referring to the local multiplex cinema. And people seem to be happy, they thank us all the time for bringing in different content.”
Mandel admits she was never a big movie expert before she started programming, but she’s getting into it now.
“It’s definitely pretty fun. It takes a lot of time. I go to this website, and pick alternatives. I am always watching trailers and reading reviews. I like a real broad range of movies, I’m not settled on one thing.
“It’s just kind of opened up a different world of programming I had never really been into before.”
The couple is busy planning for January’s shows, and hoping to build more audience for their fare.
“It’s been good,” says Bradley. “The community has been a huge supporter, and we wouldn’t be here if this town wasn’t how they were. So it’s nice to offer back something.”
Bradley says as people get more used to the ever-changing schedule at the theatre, they expect the audience will grow — and rather than a hindrance, the ability to play second-run movies is a strength.
“It’s pretty exciting that way, the beauty of this palace is we can cater to all sorts of people, all sorts of interests, with all sorts of movies,” he says.
“And our doors are still open, so that’s a good thing.”