Vancouver’s vintage movie theatres fall victim to progress

A new documentary Broken Palace shines a light on what's being lost with the destruction of the city's old-style movie houses

Kristen Brown Broken Palace Ross Munro
Actress Kristen Brown during documentary shoot for Broken Palace - photo by Next One Productions

There was a time when going to the movies was an experience filled with luxury and glamour, says Vancouver film-maker Ross Munro.

But those times are fading fast, he says.  No more than a handful of single-screen heritage theatres still stand in Vancouver. Every year, one after the other succumbs to the development boom.

Broken Palace is his short documentary that recounts the last days of those cinemas. A charming usherette (Kristen Brown) opens the golden doors of one of the surviving venues and takes us through its red carpet to its velvet seats bathed in the dim light of its sparkling chandeliers.

The film debuts at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

What follows is Vancouver Observer's Q+A with the director / producer.

1. Why do this film?

Ross Munro: Going to work everyday on the west side of Vancouver I couldn’t help but notice the gradual progress in the demolition of the Ridge single screen heritage movie theatre and it set my mind reeling about how a tragic many of these old time cinematic landmarks have been under the wrecking ball. This particular event is the spark that ignited the passion to make “Broken Palace”- our impressionistic journey into the alarmingly disappearing world of vintage movie palaces.

2. Why save old theatres? If they are not commercially viable then why not let the market build what it wants to in the theatre’s place?

Ross Munro: Why save old cultures? Works of art? Architecture? How do you get a sense of the present/future without having tangible proof of the past? Old movie theatres used to (and still can) serve as vital cultural gathering places for society- bringing them together in a communal celebration as they marvel at the elegance surrounding them as the lights dim and we begin to dream as one. As for “commercially viable”, that is a complicated/loaded expression as these precious structures are usually torn down to make way for pricey real estate developments that usually render extreme profits to development companies with no regard for cultural history or tradition.

Ross Munro Broken Palace shooting

Ross Munro during shooting of Broken Palace - photo by Next One Productions

3. What surprised you the most as a filmmaker as you delved into this topic?

Ross Munro: Seeing how passionate people of all ages were when describing their filmgoing memories and experiences upon sharing the subject matter of my film with them- and how many people tend to see the trajectory of their life reflected through the prism of the movies they’ve seen growing up along the way. Also, how this destruction of these historical theatres is deeply universal as the topic resonates on a global scale.

4. What’s something most people don’t realize about Vancouver’s old theatres?

Ross Munro: How much of a cultural meeting place they provided- a differing spectrum of communities all gathered together as one tribe, all equal as they sat awash in the screen’s flickering images. Also, the overall elagance of the moviegoing experience- fancy dressed ushers/usherettes, ornate ceilings adorned with frescoes more akin to a Venetian church, lobbies decked out with an array of now-defunct lobby cards depicting iconic scenes from upcoming films, plush crimson curtains regally opening as the lights dim to denote the commencing of the cinematic presentation....

5. How can people see this film?

The World Premiere of the “Broken Palace” will debut at the Vancouver International Film Festival.  Tickets can be bought online.

  • Monday, September 29, 9 pm, SFU Woodwards
  • Wednesday, Oct.1, 11am, SFU Woodwards
  • Friday, Oct. 3, 10:30 am, International Village #9

The film was also co-produced by Maria Munro and Ron Heaps.

old Vancouver movie theatre

Old Vancouver movie theatre - photo by Next One Productions
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