The room erupts in occasional laughter when the acting on the screen gets too melodramatic for even the most composed of the audience.
It’s Friday night, and about 100 Edmontonians have gathered at the Garneau Theatre for a screening of the 1946 adaptation of Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s Beauty and the Beast, presented by Metro Cinema.
Some are there to gain a deeper appreciation for what film used to be. Some want to see a childhood favourite on the big screen again, and others are there to relax and unwind after a long week. Whatever their reason for being there, they know Metro Cinema will deliver.
It’s not the top grossing film of the week, but then again, that’s hardly the kind of detail Metro Cinema concerns itself with when deciding on its film selection.
A familiar face
“Metro Cinema’s actually been around in one way or another for about 40 years, but it’s been a lot of different kinds of organizations over those 40 years,” said David Cheoros, Metro Cinema’s executive director.
Cheoros has been with Metro Cinema for more than two years, and said his role with the organization might be the most difficult to define in concrete terms.
“I tend to fill in all the things that other people aren’t obviously taking care of,” he said.
Between film screenings, community events, and live acts that take place at the Garneau Theatre, it is easy to see why Cheoros’ responsibilities vary so widely.
“We have a full-time programmer who is focused on the film selections, (and) we have people who are in charge of bringing the films to the screen. My job is more about figuring out where Metro Cinema fits in the community, both as a programmer of film and as a host for others here at the Garneau,” Cheoros said.
Metro Cinema has operated out of several different venues over its existence, but moved to its current location at the Garneau Theatre in 2011.
“We are incredibly lucky to be at the Garneau Theatre, which is a beautiful, old 1940s structure, built in what was then suburban Edmonton, just south of the High Level Bridge. It’s a 500-seat space so (it’s) big, but not overwhelming.”
Cheoros said the change in venues was a significant milestone for the organization, doubling their auditorium size, tripling the number of weekly shows they hosted, and tripling their budget.
“There was a long time where we were just adjusting to that new reality. I think we’re starting to find sort of what our next reality will be, which is a place that’s the most fun place to go see a movie in Edmonton, where you’re going to see shows you’re not going to see anywhere else,” Cheoros added.
Metro Cinema’s versatility and ability to be what the community needs is made apparent by the diversity in its programming.
Metro Cinema regularly screens films, but also hosts lectures, meetings, and live shows. Cheoros added that in addition to this programming, Metro Cinema also partners with 70 to 80 different groups to promote and support a range of causes.
Local and independent
As an independent theatre operating in a film world that’s being swept up by corporate giants, Metro Cinema has been able to carve out a unique space for itself within the Edmonton community.
“I think that, like a lot of industries, when you see that consolidation around a few films, a few studios, or a few chains, the more centralized their focus and their vision becomes, the easier it is for people like us to nibble around the edges of that,” Cheoros said.
Activities at the Metro Cinema include Quote-A-Long viewings, Saturday morning cartoon marathons (complete with a selection of cereals for the audience), and combining screenings with performances or lectures. These activities are just some of the ways Metro Cinema has been able to make their space an exceptional one for experiencing bits of culture that are not readily available elsewhere.
“We’re a beautiful 75-year-old art deco theatre. It feels different, so why try and not be that?” Cheoros said.
It’s not always about opportunities, however. Challenges are plentiful for a growing organization trying to stay relevant in the world of online streaming and increased access to digital media.
So what is it that brings people into an aging theatre to see an older film?
“Fundamentally, each other. There is a beautiful intimacy to watching something on your couch in your underwear, but there is also something wonderful about having a shared experience, having something you can chat about in the lobby afterwards, and having popcorn handed to you and sitting down in a big dark room together that you can’t get with Netflix,” Cheoros said.
Cheoros hopes as Metro Cinema changes and grows, it can build itself to be the kind of community hub that can be at the heart of an unreproducible experience for its guests.
Garneau Theatre is not a flashy building, nor is it a towering structure. Quiet and unassuming, it would be easy to walk past the building without ever stepping in. What’s on the inside, however, is an unforgettable experience and a community waiting to welcome you into its fold.
“I’d like people to have this sense that even if they can’t keep track of what’s going on any given day, that they can trust that if they come in to the Garneau, something is going to be interesting,” Cheoros said.
Cover photo supplied.