Moviegoers might notice the absence of two Best of Calgary categories this year: “Best Arthouse Cinema” and “Best Video Store.” What the hell happened?
The decision to jettison the video store category is easier to explain (though no less depressing): there are no video stores left. Well, the two Casablanca Video stores remain. But the last year or so has seen the bankruptcy of Blockbuster, the disappearance of Rogers, and the closing of Bird Dog and Burning Moon Video. Calgarians who don’t want to use video-on-demand, trawl Netflix, or download from the Internet are shit outta luck unless they live in Mission or around Marda Loop.
The technology for streaming and downloading video is pretty intuitive and/or idiot-proof. Unless you’re truly ancient, the decision to opt out of engaging with the technology is, really, a choice. The problem is that everyone assumes that everything is available on the Internet, at the click of a button — which it isn’t. The new Game of Thrones episode? Yep. Older out-of-print cult flicks? Maybe... but just as likely, maybe not. And even if you can hunt them down, it’s often at the expense of a quality version (no online download I’ve seen looks as good as Blu-ray), or forgoing the bells and whistles (commentary, special features).
There’s also the dubious ethics of just dumping whatever you can online, for whomever to find it — regardless of where you fall on the illegal downloading divide, it has had consequences for retailers and fans. Want to see this season’s slate of Criterion releases, but can’t afford to shell out hundreds of dollars for them? Go to the indie video store. (Sorry, now you can’t.)
And there’s the rub. Yeah, Internet trolls can and do put everything online, but it’s creating a world where producers are forced into making entertainment of the lowest common denominator. Enough people will shell out some cash for the new Transformers movie before it’s on the Internet, but smaller cult flicks live and die on a dedicated fan base, which often means a limited theatrical release (if new), followed by a quality release of the film on DVD or Blu-ray. Without the ability for viewers to gain access to a number of these films — for a reasonable price, which is what a video store does — there’s no market for anything that won’t appeal to absolutely everybody (which, in the end, means nobody at all).
Netflix has helped to fill in some of the gaps, but they’ve only got a limited selection — and one that’s dictated by the demands of studios. It isn’t paranoia: the loss of video stores has already curtailed availability and selection, where fans of non-blockbuster, Hollywood entertainment have no way to access the flicks they love and support. What do you call something more underground than “underground” itself? I guess we’ll find out.
The dropping of the indie theatre category, however, is Calgary’s fuck-up. Until a year ago, we had a few dedicated independent venues. Not a lot, but more than enough for what Calgary audiences needed — the Plaza, the Globe and the Uptown. On top of maintaining regular programming (indie and second-run flicks), the three were responsible for providing a space for all of the extra film events the city has to offer. And there’s no shortage of ’em: the Calgary International Film Festival; the Calgary Underground Film Festival; Fairy Tales; the Sled Island Film Festival; and the animation festival, GIRAF. Not to mention the year-long programming by Calgary Cinematheque and the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers, among others.
Now the Uptown is gone, the Plaza has seemingly given up, and the Globe has been left to pick up the slack. The fate of the Uptown appears to be sealed, despite the occasional blurb highlighting the latest acrimonious news, while the Plaza remains a mystery, its regular fantastic programming lost amidst confusion and apathy. The lack of space has made it difficult for programmers, who are faced with scaling back programming (high rental rates), or dropping one-off type events altogether (i.e., the Burning Moon horror screenings). Whether this will send programmers to far-flung places in an attempt to secure space, or drive screenings underground (homes, studios) remains to be seen.
The recent (and awesome) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles screening (part of Quickdraw Animation Society’s annual Lockdown event) aside, the Plaza has had very few special screening events, leading many in the community to be both mystified and saddened by what they see as a misuse of a Calgary landmark. My “Best of Calgary” wish: that the Plaza finds its place in the city’s film community once again, and that the occasional news story about the Uptown’s fate finds a resolution.
C’mon, Calgary: it’s time to step up. Everyone loves movies.