Photo: Nelson Civic Centre & Theatre in Nelson BC Canada – Photo:

At the Network of Independent Canadian Exhibitors (NICE), we had anticipated this would be a challenging time for cinemas during the pandemic…

But what we weren’t expecting was the conflagration of:

  • The cost of living crisis
  • The reduction in the number of films available to screen, including repertory titles
  • Strikes in Hollywood disrupting titles in release
  • Increasingly restrictive demands from studios in order to show their movies
  • The biggest double-bill blockbuster in years Barbenheimer being blocked from many independent cinemas due to unfair zone restrictions

This is all taking place at the same time that CEBA loan repayment is due in order to retain the grant component. Other compounding stressors include the fact that the equipment of many independent cinemas, purchased during the transition to digital projection, is beginning to fail. Many cinemas also operate heritage buildings which require constant upkeep.

Who are the independent cinemas in Canada?

Canada is a fairly unique market, with significant monopoly concerns. When we talk about independent cinemas, we are talking about all cinemas except for Cineplex and, to a much lesser extent, Landmark. Learn more.

What that means for this conversation is that the concerns of independent cinemas are the concerns of all theatrical exhibition outside of one major player, and one mid-sized player. Independents are not niche: They are the primary alternative venue to see a movie—and often at a more affordable price.

Independent cinemas, in English-speaking Canada especially, are a fragile ecosystem: Each venue must individually come up with inventive ways to survive, and is vulnerable to changes in the market. These venues are key cultural and economic players in their communities. They are also the best bet on building audiences for Canadian film.

Independent cinemas are difficult to re-open; we very rarely hear of venues being brought back to life. In Halifax, Canada’s 13th most populous city and an important provincial capital, there has been no independent brick-and-mortar cinema for years.

Cinemas in crisis

Last week, we put out a call to our membership asking: “Are you also especially feeling the pinch right now? Do you feel close to making tough decisions about the future of your venue?”

We quickly received 25 responses from venues across the country:

  • 48% of respondents are located in communities with a population under 30,000
  • 20% are in rural areas: communities with a population of less than 1,000 or with a population density less than 400 persons per square kilometre
  • 60% are the only cinema in their community
  • 60% are historic venues

Over and over, we heard from cinemas who are in a tough position. They just need a bit more time to build back their audiences and pay back their loans.


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