The Clova Cinema’s Final Reel

Clova Cinema

The Clova Cinema is the latest in a long line of Lower Mainland movie theatres forced to shut its doors after entertaining locals for decades.

A jewel of Surrey’s charming Cloverdale Main Street since in 1947, the Clova has been featured in several television shows and movies over the years, including the locally-lensed series Smallville, in which the Clova played the role of “The Talon Theater.”

The Clova’s impending demise is partly the result of failed negotiations between the theatre’s management and the building’s new owners, but the cinema is also another victim of the digital revolution in movie exhibition. After over 100 years, traditional 35 mm film projection is being phased out in favour digital formats like DCP (Digital Cinema Package). In January, the Los Angeles Times announced that, after years of warnings, Paramount Pictures had officially become the first Hollywood studio to stop printing shipping film altogether (its first digital-only release was Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street). DCP holds several advantages for Hollywood studios and their distributers: shipping a single hard drive per feature to theatres as opposed to four or five heavy reels of film is far more cost effective. However, DCP projectors can be exorbitant for theatre owners. Large chains like Canada’s Cineplex have been able to absorb the costs of digital conversion and continue to screen new product, while dozens of smaller and single-screen theatres across the country – already saddled with harsh studio rules dictating their programming – have faced a tough decision: convert to digital or close.

The Clova’s situation was complicated by ongoing speculation over the future of the building itself. Craig Burghardt, who has owned the theatre since 1996, understandably didn’t wish to risk investing $60,000 in a new projector while not having the assurance of a long-term lease. The building has recently changed hands, and the new owners, the leaders of a local church, have plans that are not, according to Burghardt, “conducive to us running as a movie theatre.” They will, however, allow the Clova to stay open and screen movies until film is no longer available from any source. The other major Hollywood studios are expected to follow in Paramount’s steps very soon, and it’s likely that no new movies will be printed on film stock beyond this summer (at least for North America and major markets in Europe and Asia, that is: some other overseas markets will continue to receive actual film for the next few years).

Burghardt hopes to fit in as many films as possible between now and then, keeping the Clova’s old, reliable twin projectors, nicknamed Martha and Ethel, busy right up until the end – going out, in his words, with a bang – as yet another vintage BC movie house fades to black.

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About The Author

Silmara Emde is a photographer and graphic designer, and Curtis Emde is a writer and teacher. They are based in Vancouver, British Columbia, and together they form the Projection Project - a multi-media venture that documents the changing nature of movie-going as the 35mm film era ends and the digital era begins.