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Bytowne Cinema
Bytowne Cinema is a theatre that evokes nostalgia among Ottawans. Photo: Bridget Coady/Fulcrum

Movie theatres have been empty for a long time due to COVID-19, but they are still important 

The last movie I saw in theatres was Little Women (2019). I loved it so much that I saw it a second time. And then I saw it a third time. And at all three showings, I cried into my popcorn. 

Recently I watched Little Women from home on Amazon Prime. And big surprise… I cried. But when I watched it at home, the film felt less gripping than it did in theatres. For some reason, Little Women is well complemented by low-lights, the smell of buttered popcorn, and the sound of older ladies murmuring about how “Laura Dern is in every other movie nowadays”. 

I also like when the lights come-up after a movie and the entire audience stays seated—as if stunned with how abruptly the grasp of the film’s fictional world released them into normalcy. I also appreciate that the audience walks out of the theatre having cared about, connected with, and learned from the same characters. They now have something in common with a bunch of strangers. 

Recently however, I have not been able to live this experience because cinemas across Canada were forced to shut down after the first wave of the pandemic (although, some cinemas recently reopened).

In his book, A Theatre Near You—150 Years of Going to the Show in Ottawa-Gatineau), Alain Miguelez tells the history of cinemas in Ottawa-Gatineau between the 1850s to the early 2000s. Ottawa’s cinemas were the social spaces where Miguelez grew into himself. In the 1990s, when single-screen theatres were demolished, Miguelez felt that important moments from his childhood were destroyed. This is what inspired Miguelez to write his book. 

For example, the “Rialto” cinema, or as he calls it, “The Rat Hole”, is where he and his friends watched, “kung-fu movies for 75 cents” after school. And the first time he saw the psychedelic picture, “Pink Floyd: The Wall” was at Towne theatre — which, ‘fascinated [his] young mind.” Both of these places were demolished in the 1990s. So, to preserve his childhood, Miguelez, “collected photos and information, [spoke] to people, [and went] through old newspaper microfilms and archives”. 

According to Miguelez, “in purest form [the cinema will] fill you with awe and give you a particular sense of occasion”. 

Miguelez’s book prompted me to reflect on whether the cinema impacts my life. And it turns-out, the cinema is where I had my first big birthday party. It is where I saw my first horror film. And it was also where I went on my first date. Even though the pandemic bars me from the cinema, I hold onto the notion that the cinema is a place of inspiration. It is also the place where I learned to empathize with people with stories different from my own. 

Once the pandemic is over, I am hopeful that, as a city, we will continue to support Ottawa’s theatres.