The screens were modest in size, some of the seats felt pulled from an auto junkyard, and at least one urinal seemed permanently out of order, but shit, Martha, if it isn’t gonna sting when the Village 8 Cinemas closes its doors for good on Jan. 5.
For almost exactly 20 years, the little multiplex that could has lit up Whistler’s nights with the latest Hollywood hits (and misses). How many of us went there on a first date? Or took our kids in for their first movie ever? Who remembers Sean, the dude who would tear your admission tickets two at a time by snapping his fingers? How many excellent Canadian films did we see there at Whistler Film Festival screenings that we would never have been exposed to otherwise?
As teenagers growing up in a resort town fuelled by adrenaline sports and socially acceptable day drinking/alcoholism, the Village 8 offered one of very few options for healthy socializing and fun after the sun went down. Part of the magic of film, for anyone at any age, is the warmth of a shared human experience—we sit together in a dark room and ride a rollercoaster of creativity and emotion. Of humour and fear, or excitement or tears. And we do it together. When everyone laughs at the guy getting hit in the nuts in Jackass, or cheers when Spider-Man -upside-down kisses Mary Jane, or collectively falls in love with Angelina Jolie, it tells us that other people see the same reality we do, and share the same responses. The movies remind us we are not alone. And that is a hard thing for a community to lose.
Certainly, cinema has always been a bit of a luxury in Whistler. The first movie projector rolled into town (on the train no doubt) in 1954, purchased by the Alta Lake Community Club, which held weekly movie nights using a sheet for a screen. That was the only gig in town until the mid-1980s, with the completion of the Whistler Conference Centre and the one-screen Rainbow Theatre.
For us kids, the Rainbow (and adjacent Whistler Wonderland arcade) felt like winning the lottery. Even if the only way we could get first-run movies was to show them at both screenings for three weeks. (This was OK when it was Jurassic Park, but less enjoyable for Hook and Toys, which clogged two Christmas holidays in a row.)
All this only made the Village 8 more exceptional when it opened in December of 2002. Even though Hollywood never releases even four good films at the same time, eight screens felt like a revelation. It also felt very Whistler—an underground venue, with small screening rooms and walls thin enough that during the quiet moments of a film like The Runaways you could often hear the thunderous fight scenes of the Twilight Saga: Eclipse playing next door (both starring Kristen Stewart). And of course, a bar in the lobby—Whistler style.
So let’s raise a glass and then pour some on the block for the Village 8. Operating any small business in Whistler feels like pulling off a small miracle, so to operate a theatre here for 20 years—especially amidst the disruption of streaming technology—is a public service worth recognizing. Thank you, Village 8— I wish I’d gone more. I wish all of us had. (Also, does this mean we’re getting AlpenRock back or what?)