CALGARY CINEMATHEQUE

Gary Burns

Calgary Cinematheque president Gary Burns

KEEPING THE SPIRIT OF CINEMA ALIVE IN CALGARY

Preserving the merit and character of a medium as rich and diverse as film can be a challenge in any environment, let alone one such as Calgary, a city which seems to be in a hurry to do away with the old and usher in the new. However, Calgary Cinematheque, fronted by Gary Burns, its president, has given aficionados and casual movie goers alike the chance to view classic movies as well as put a spotlight on contemporary cinema from around the world. I had the chance to speak with Burns about the past, present and future of Calgary Cinematheque.

Started by Burns and a group of local cinephiles, including Donna Brunsdale, Kevin Allen and Trevor Smith, the motivation for starting a Cinematheque in Calgary was clear and obvious from the get-go.

“Big cities have cinematheques, and we didn’t have one here. We’re cinephiles and just thought there was a hole here, it had to happen eventually,” says Burns.

The Calgary Cinematheque operates from The Plaza Theatre in Kensington and, more recently, Theatre Junction GRAND. They run various series from October until late spring and the movies showcased revolve around a common theme. This year features multiple themes, including Classic Crime (Mean Streets, The Killing), Amazing Soundtracks (Yojimbo, Down by Law) and ‘60s Britain (Bunny Lake is Missing, Goldfinger). The process of picking themes for a season is a democratic process. As Burns puts it, “There’s five of us on the programming committee and everyone just puts out ideas. Last year, we all just came up with a theme and then voted. I’d really like to do a Taiwanese series next year. We haven’t done American Independent yet and that could be a great series. We’re lucky, we’re only seven years old so there’s a lot of places to go.”

An equal importance to showing classic favourites is playing new cinematic gems from this generation’s best filmmakers.

“Last year we showed The Kid with The Bike, by the Dardenne brothers, and Andre Sukurov’s Faust — those kinds of films are tough because you almost have to wait a full year before you can book. That’s one of the reasons why we started Cinematheque: it’s great to program all the old films but you also want to see contemporary titles that wouldn’t screen here if we didn’t bring them in.”

That’s just one of the challenges CC currently faces. The movie industry in recent years has undergone a much-publicized transformation from film to digital, or what’s called a Digital Contents Package. Burns offers a fair but sentimental opinion: “Our mandate is to show films the way they were meant to be seen. We always try to get a movie on 35mm, but it’s very hard and expensive. Digital opens things up. It used to be if you couldn’t get a film print of a movie you wanted to show, it just didn’t happen. Now, if you get it on DCP, it looks pretty good, there’s no wobble in the sound, it’s pristine. We’re showing Goldfinger on DCP at The Plaza soon, that’s gonna be dynamite. But 35mm, there’s something else going on, it glows.”

As mentioned previously Cinematheque expanded to Theatre Junction GRAND this season for an even more unique movie-going experience.

“Our Theatre Junction stuff is different, it’s a more intimate space – they have good seats and there’s a bar, so we can show movies that are a little bit off-the-wall. We’re getting a new projector and a bigger screen hopefully in time for Scorsese’s Mean Streets.”

As for the future of CC and the film community, in general Burns holds a positive outlook on the matter: “[Cinematheque] is only going to get bigger, we’re hoping to have a permanent home in the not too distant future. We want a cinema we can call our own, a main base.

“I think we’re pretty lucky for a city our size, there’s tons of stuff going on. CUFF is really strong, CIFF is doing its thing and has the Doc Soup, CSIF is doing a lot of stuff. There’s a lot of festivals, like GIRAF and Fairy Tales and Latin Wave. Combined with the films we’re showing and with The Plaza having The Fifth Feel and The Globe, Calgary is well served right now.” 

Calgary Cinematheque’s next event will be Mean Streets on Feb. 3 at Theatre Junction GRAND (see trailer below) and Saturday Night & Sunday Morning at The Plaza on Feb. 13. Check www.Calgarycinema.org for details and future showtimes.

By Alonso Melgar
Photo: Courtesy of Burns Films Ltd.

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