Smartphone Road Trip

Gem Theatre, Grand Forks, BC

At the end of February, we took a road trip through British Columbia’s spectacular Okanagan Valley and Kootenay regions. While Nelson’s Civic Theatre was a destination (we had an interview lined up there), we were primarily working on a couple of other photography projects not related to the Projection Project. Somehow, though – like magnets, almost – we found ourselves drawn to very charming cinemas in several of the little towns we drove through, as we made a circle from Vernon to Golden, through Nelson to Grand Forks and back to Vernon (with side trips to Kamloops and Enderby).

Since time was tight, we weren’t able to stop and photograph these places with a lot of care. Instead, we usually only managed a quick smartphone snap before continuing on our way. And in the case of Creston’s lovely Tivoli Theatre, it was too early in the morning when we passed through town – still dark outside and snowing too much – to manage a photo of any kind.

Most of these places seemed to be showing current releases, suggesting they’d converted to digital projection. One of them, though, has been closed for over decade – Cranbrook’s Armond, with its elegant downtown facade. Erin Dalton, the owner of nearby Lotus Books, told us that various attempts to revive the place had failed over the years, mostly due to the province’s draconian liquor laws (plans are currently underway, however, to turn the Armond into a mixed-use venue and piano bar).

Just outside of Enderby is the Starlight Drive-in. Once very popular (I will never forget seeing Star Wars at Vernon’s now-long-gone Skyway Drive-in during the summer of 1977, the parking lot absolutely crammed with cars), these automotive theatres are now rare (we know of only one other surviving BC drive-in, Langley’s Twilight). Spotting the Starlight from the highway in 2014 is, therefore, a welcome surprise. Since the place was closed for the season, the best we could do was get a few shots from the road (an attempt to hop the fence for some better photos ended when the guard dog spotted us).

By the time we got to Grand Forks we simply followed our nose. At one intersection, instinct told us to turn right – the street seemed just perfect for a local, single-screen cinema…and indeed we found the appropriately-named Gem Theatre, nestled in the heart of downtown, right where one would expect it. The man behind the counter at the cafe across the street mentioned that he’s lived in Grand Forks since the 60s, and has been seeing movies at the Gem all that time. “They updated all of the equipment not too long ago,” he said, “but the seats are just as uncomfortable as ever!”

Such observations, as well as the utter charm of these theatres’ exteriors, excited our vintage-appreciating sensibilities. We have vowed to return to these places and to photograph them properly and to speak to the people who keep them alive. We’ll let you know when we manage another winter road trip through the Selkirk and Monashee Mountains, and we’ll share the results with you.

Our Smartphone Road Trip Gallery (or what we managed to capture) can be viewed below:

text: Curtis Emde

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.