Art and foreign films, documentaries and festivals to play in former AlpenRock space
After 35 years in the movie business Marshall Smith has witnessed some dramatic changes.
Back in the old days he recalls the musicals that sang and danced their way across the silver screen.
Nowadays theres no Gene Kelly slopping through the streets, singing in the rain. The movies of 2002 are expensive and sophisticated and the movie-going public expects a lot for the price of admission.
"The public has seen just about everything nowadays so you have to really come up with something new to please them," he said.
Smith will be bringing Whistler something new this year in the form of an eight-screen theatre in the former home of the AlpenRock.
Hes hoping to deliver his Whistler movie theatre just in time for Christmas, with an opening date scheduled for Dec. 25.
"Everybody is (in Whistler) for the holidays. All the big pictures are out over Christmas. The two go hand in hand," he said.
Smith isnt launching into unfamiliar territory opening a movie theatre in a resort town. He also owns and runs similar venues in Sun Valley and Aspen and he is currently working out some deals for movie theatres in other resorts.
Smith said he is attuned into the needs of the resort crowd, which he says are different from a typical urban area.
"In resort areas you have a very wealthy strata and weve found that its a more highly educated populous, " he said.
"Over the years weve found that translates into people who not only have a strong interest in the commercial films but also in art films.
"The people that live in resort communities tend to have a broader range of movies that they have an interest in and... we intend to take care of that need."
Smith said that along with the standard high-profile Hollywood movies, he would also bring in a lot of art films, domestic and foreign films and documentaries.
And, as in his other operations, he will also host film festivals in the theatre.
"Right now were showing film festivals in Sun Valley and in Aspen and theyre made up of the more esoteric films," he said.
"Some of them are subtitled and some of them are in English, from all over the world and Canada and the US."
Whistler can expect the same type of things.
The theatre will not be ready in time for the 2002 Whistler Film Festival but Smith is hoping he can provide a future venue for that event.
The eight theatres will be different sizes, to accommodate the size of the crowds for different movies. Some will be as small as 90 seats and others as large as 150 seats. The theatre will also be able to play the same movie on different screens.
"Its going to be very plush seating with state of the art digital sound," he said.
While the seats and the sound may be similar to the monolithic Cineplex and Silver City venues in the city, Smith hastens to add that his theatre is not a chain.
"Resort areas do not lend themselves to chain operations, not just to theatres but to a lot of things," he said.
"You have to pay attention to (resort areas). You have to be locally oriented. You have to use your theatre for public functions or groups in the community. You have to run art festivals and they take time and effort. The chains arent really set up to do that."
Unlike the food areas at the mega-chain counterparts, Smiths theatre will house an old fashioned cafe, which will serve chocolates and ice cream and pastries and espresso, complete with art deco decor in the lobby.
"We have to work harder to make less money (than the chains) but there is a lot of money to be made," he added.
He admits its a competitive market out there these days and things are very different for theatre owners than they were in the past.
He remembers back to 35 years ago when his family first stepped into the movie business.
"Back in the old days there was so much film that the film companies actually came to you," he said.
"The people that owned the theatres were kind of in the drivers seat. But thats no longer the case."
Now its more of an even playing field because of the sheer number of screens available in North America.
Smith said he has not finalized a price for tickets but he did say they would probably be competitive with the Rainbow Theatre.
There will be matinee prices and discounts for kids, he added.
As for the shoulder seasons, Smith shrugs them off.
Over the last five years he has noticed more and more people coming to the resorts in the US during the summertime. And the permanent populations seem to be expanding, he said.
Added to that, the film companies are now stretching their release dates earlier in the year. For example, the summer blockbuster Spiderman was released in the first week of May, whereas in the past most summer hits werent released until June.
So the releasing patterns of the film companies are boosting business during the spring shoulder season.
"Its not the problem that it used to be," he said.
"Yes, theres a drop off but thats when we concentrate on the art films. Its a good time to reacquaint ourselves with the locals and make sure were playing what they want to see."
At peak times the theatre will run "full sets." Smith explains there will be four shows each day between 1 p.m. and midnight.
"Its an alternative form of recreation," he said.
"Its a great amenity to keep people in the town that are skiing, especially during bad weather."
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