Curtis and Silmara Emde’s Out of the Interior: Survival of the small-town Cinema in British Columbia screens at the Vernon Towne Cinema Monday.

Survival of the independent cinema

Curtis and Silmara Emde document the tenacity of independent single-screen cinemas in the Interior

Life, as we know it, is changing. Every day the technology Goliaths of Silicon Valley announce new, hi-tech gizmos to modernize our entertainment routines.

The days of movie stores and cassette tapes are fading as movie and music streaming populates the market. However, this has caused an underground resurgence, and vinyl records have made their way back to the store shelves. In a similar fashion, independent single-screen movie theatres in smaller communities have fought hard to retain their rank as cultural landmarks.

It is this phenomenon that Curtis and Silmara Emde sought to document in Out of the Interior: Survival of the small-town Cinema in British Columbia, which screens at the Vernon Towne Cinema Monday, Oct. 2.

“When we started, we weren’t sure where we were going,” Curtis said through a shakey phone connection as he and Silmara brought the documentary on tour, adding that the germ of the idea started a few years ago with a photo project Silmara was working on that followed the depletion of these independent cinemas due to the digital revolution.

“It (digital) was expensive,” Curtis said. “It was a big investment that many couldn’t afford.”

Silmara and Curtis toured the province, starting in their home-base of Vancouver and touring through the Interior, photographing cinemas as they went.

“Photography is one of the best ways to preserve something that is fading,” Curtis said.

What they found as they toured through the Interior, though, was surprising. These independent single-screen cinemas that had largely gone under in Vancouver were steadfast against the digital tide.

“‘What is keeping all these places going?’ It started really with that question,” Curtis said.

Their quest for the answer, with Curtis on screen and Silmara behind the lens, took the couple across the southern Interior, from Oliver to Curtis’s early-years’ stomping ground, Vernon.

“Of course Vernon’s Towne Cinema features prominently,” Curtis said. “I grew up in Vernon, so it was there I saw many of the key movies of my childhood and teenage years, so it was an absolute pleasure to explore the mysterious spaces upstairs as well as delve into the history of movie exhibition in Vernon, including the gone-but-never-to-be-forgotten Skyway Drive-in.”

Through exploring these theatres, Silmara and Curtis learned about more than just the cinema industry.

“These places are really part of their heritage,” Curtis said. “The cinemas revealed a lot more about the community than we thought.”

Each theatre’s roots in the community were uncovered when Curtis and Silmara delved deep into the museums and archives, uncovering stories about the film industry’s role in providing release during the depression to stories of a more local flare.

“Every theatre has a unique story,” Curtis said. “It’s partly my story too, looking a it now grown up. We kind of took it for granted.”

But they couldn’t have gotten the information they did without help.

“Vernon Museum and Archives provide a really incredible service,” Curtis said. “You just have to ask and they bring it to you. And not just Vernon, but museums and archives throughout the region were extremely helpful.”

And it’s these stories of tenacious independent theatre’s that the couple has enjoyed sharing with British Columbians as they take the documentary on tour.

Mimicking the opening sequence, Silmara and Curtis started their Out of the Interior: Survival of the small-town Cinema in British Columbia in Oliver, receiving positive feedback along the way.

“Older people will say thank you, because it brought back memories for them,” Curtis said.

And, to pay homage to the theatre of Curtis’s childhood, the curtains close as the Vernon Towne Cinema fades into the background.

Out of the Interior: Survival of the small-town Cinema in British Columbia screens at the Vernon Towne Cinema Monday at 5:30 p.m., followed by a question and answer period with Curtis and Silmara as part of the Okanagan Screen Arts Society’s local filmmaker double feature spotlight. Also playing Monday night is Matt McDowell’s Sheila and the Brainstem — a fast-paced social satire, which screens at 7:30 p.m. Advance tickets are available at the Bean Scene Coffee House and the cinema. $10 for non-members and $6 for members, with memberships available at the door.

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