Evans Theater pulling back the curtains – Brandon Sun

Local fans of arthouse and independent cinema will have a space to call their own once again next month as the Evans Theater is poised to resume its screening schedule for the first time in two and a half years.

The people behind the volunteer-run operation announced the reopening Friday, pointing to a Sept. 23 start date.

While an official movie lineup hasn’t been finalized as of Tuesday, Brandon Film Festival Inc. president Ron McPhail told the Sun that his team is still very excited to get things back up and running following a lengthy hiatus that began in March 2020.

Brandon University web co-ordinator Patrick Johanneson sits inside the Evans Theater Tuesday afternoon. Johanneson, who has been volunteering at the theater since the 1990s, said he is very excited for the Evans’ planned return on Sept. 23 after more than two years. (Kyle Darbyson/The Brandon Sun)

“We’re very happy. I know I’ve missed it,” McPhail said on Tuesday. “I know several of our other volunteers have, too.”

In terms of why it has taken the Evans so long to reopen its doors, especially compared to other movie theaters in the region, McPhail explained that his team was bound by Brandon University’s COVID-19 guidelines, with the space being located right next to the John E. Robbins Library on campus.

But when BU discarded its most severe COVID precautions in April, McPhail and his team got the green light to fire up their projector after the summer break.

Johanneson shows off some of the film equipment, from the past and the present, that is still stored in the Evans Theatre’s projection booth. (Kyle Darbyson/The Brandon Sun)

“Usually, we take the summers off because we’re a volunteer-based organization,” he said. “This is our usual starting time in the fall.”

For volunteer Patrick Johanneson, the return of the Evans will be a welcome change of pace for their usual Brandon patrons, whose theatre-going experiences have been relegated almost exclusively to Landmark Cinemas during the pandemic.

While theater chains like Landmark specialize in blockbusters and movies with large commercial appeal, the Evans has carved out a niche in the community by screening a lot of “oddball” films from independent and international markets.

Johanneson checks in on the Evans Theatre’s digital projector Tuesday afternoon. The Evans switched from a 35mm projector to using this digital model in the mid 2010s. (Kyle Darbyson/The Brandon Sun)

“It’s a good feeling to be able to show films that you don’t see in Brandon otherwise,” said Johanneson, who also serves as BU’s web co-ordinator.

“There’s some [films] that if I haven’t seen them at the Evans, I wouldn’t have known they existed. Some of those were not great, and others have become my favourites.”

The Evans Theater has been a refuge for film lovers since 1967, when the space was used to host the very first Brandon Film Festival.

A closer look at some of the movie posters that are hanging at the Evans Theatre. Some of the posters are advertising screenings that never occurred due to the unexpected shutdown brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. (Kyle Darbyson/The Brandon Sun)

Having attended this event while he was still in high school, McPhail started volunteering for the Evans a couple years later, learning how to properly operate a 16-mm projector.

“We had sellout crowds in there, because that was before movies became available on TV and some people hadn’t seen classic movies like ‘Gone with the Wind’ and stuff like that,” McPhail recalled.

As the years rolled by, the Evans was forced to adapt to ongoing trends and technological advancements in the broader movie industry.

This meant trading in its 16-mm projector for a 35-mm model, while also building a projection booth to properly house the new piece of equipment.

By the mid-2010s, volunteers pivoted once again by raising enough money to buy a digital Barco projector, which streamlines the screening setup by a significant margin.

“Before, we basically had to switch back and forth between two projectors and keep an eye on the film. Now you basically push a button and do whatever,” Johanneson said.

The movie business has endured even more radical changes during the pandemic, where online streaming services have eaten into the bottom line of major movie studios and forced them to shift their production and distribution models.

Evans volunteer Lori Truscott has experienced this disruption firsthand working alongside Film Circuit, a national outreach program from the Toronto International Film Festival that has helped communities access the best of Canadian and international cinema since 1989.

“Film Circuit, in particular, has had to restart as well after two years,” she said.

“And the studios are still playing catchup, too. There are films available, obviously, but not as many as there once would have been.”

Despite all these difficulties, Truscott is confident that she will be able to cultivate a compelling slate of films for the Evans’ big return on Sept. 23, hoping to pick up exactly where the team left off before the pandemic emerged.

“That’s pretty much our typical lineup; a few foreign films, some Canadian films and, hopefully, some films that will challenge people’s perspectives on the world,” she said.

Truscott also mentioned that the Evans Theater is always looking to recruit new volunteers, and that anyone interested in signing up should visit the group’s social media pages or simply introduce themselves at an upcoming screening.

» kdarbyson@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @KyleDarbyson

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