There’s nothing like watching a film on the big screen. Sure, you can replicate the experience at home with a wide-screen TV and surround sound. It’s just not the same as going to the movies with a pal though—sinking into your seat with a bucket of popcorn and a bag of Twizzlers, watching cinematic magic happen.
The return of this irreplaceable experience is why folks are so excited that the Yukon Film Society has re-opened the Yukon Theatre on Wood Street after its former owners shut it down during the pandemic. Since screenings started on Dec. 10 with the Yukon 48 Film Challenge and Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, Yukoners have been flocking to the cinema. The society’s artistic director, Andrew Connors, estimates that more than 1,000 people came through the doors in those first two weeks.
“People are really excited that movies are back,” Connors says.
The latest James Bond flick, No Time to Die, sold out in 12 hours. Spider-Man: No Way Home is highly anticipated by fans of the franchise.
“I’ve lost track of all the people who have contacted us, through all the ways, who want tickets to see Spider-Man,” Connor says. “It’s nuts.”
One person wrote to the society to tell them how returning to the movies has lifted his spirits after hitting a low point during the COVID-19 pandemic. The promise of seeing Spider-Man on a big screen has banished his depression altogether.
“That was beautiful,” Connors says. “I was like ‘wow, that’s really cool.”
As well as blockbusters like Spider-Man, the society is also programming art house films and feature documentaries at the theatre, similar to the fare shown at the Yukon Arts Centre. Connors is planning to mix things up and show Hollywood movies together with more independent films.
“In the same night, you could go see West Side Story [directed by Steven Spielberg], or you could go see Licorice Pizza [directed by Paul Thomas Anderson].”
Together with the Yukon Arts Centre and the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre, the theatre will be a venue for the Available Light Film Festival. Connors is also considering some late-night screening of classics, for example David Cronenberg’s Videodrome from 1982.
Ultimately, the society has revived the theatre with the intention of creating a cultural hub to present films as well as concerts, comedy nights and other shows. The new facility would have one presentation space, instead of the two existing cinemas. Connors compares it to Yukon Arts Centre on a smaller scale, with a seating capacity of about 250.
The society is currently conducting a feasibility study to determine the viability of transforming the beloved (but poorly-insulated) building into “an energy-efficient, beautiful, functional presentation space.”
The feasibility study looks at the society’s operational needs for sustaining big screen movie experiences as well as cultural presentations and community events. This will require additional operational funding from the Yukon government and the Canada Council for the Arts, but the economic model also includes generating revenue from ticket sales, facility rentals and so on.
The society has already seen some substantial operational changes, notably a jump in staff from four to 12 people.
“We kinda got big real quick,” Connors says. “But it’s cool.”
The feasibility assessment also considers the theatre renovations, which would involve gutting the lobby and upstairs, and reconfiguring the seating. The building, which is very difficult to heat, needs insulation from top to bottom. People were watching films in their parkas during the cold snap in December.
“I could turn it up to 20 and it would still feel cold,” Connors says. “This is why it needs the full renovation.”
When asked if it’s worth overhauling the building versus constructing a new one in its place, Connors is pretty sure the renovations are worth it. The Yukon Theatre is an important cultural and historic asset, he says, and sentimental Yukoners have a lot of appreciation for its heritage values.
“Bringing it back to its 1950s glory with way more energy efficiency … would make it a really cool cultural space,” he says.
But in reality, Connors adds, they will know more in a few months, after assessments and business planning are complete.
“Who knows what would happen [to the building] if we said no?” Connors says.
I’m a bit dismayed at the possibility of the renovation not going forward, so I press, looking for confirmation Connors is confident it can go forward. He laughs.
“Feeling pretty good about it, yes.”
The Yukon Film Society has postponed a few screenings due to COVID-19. Get the latest updates on their website: yukonfilmsociety.com.