Beacon Theatre, Canada's Second Community-Owned Cinema, Is A Rising Star In Burns Lake

In 2010, Lakes District Film Appreciation Society received a $30,000 grant from Northern Development through the Community Halls and Recreation Facilities program towards this $104,094 project. This has been a funding partnership of Lakes District Film Appreciation Society, Northern Development, Bulkley Valley Credit Union, Comfor Management Services Ltd., and Lakes Legacy Fund Society

2012-The show must go on – whether you’re in front of the camera or operating the projector.  No one knows that better than Michael Riis-Christianson and his crew at the Lake District Film Appreciation Society in Burns Lake. The Lakes District Film Appreciation Society formed in 2009 to promote the presentation, appreciation, and production of films and television programs in the Lakes District. By August of the following year, the Society purchased the closed Beacon Theatre in Burns Lake with the intention of reopening it as Canada’s second community-owned cinema.

The main challenge for the Society in re-opening the theatre and financially sustaining its operations going forward was replacement of the facility’s outdated equipment. Before it closed its doors, the Beacon Theatre operated with a 1950’s projector and an old 35mm platter-feed system. Parts were very hard to locate and the system was expensive to maintain. In addition to these challenges, operating a 35 mm print system theatre meant that bringing films to Burns Lake was expensive and films arrived long after their initial screening in major centres.

The Society determined through development of a comprehensive business plan that the success of the Beacon Theatre going forward was in offering a variety of programming in addition to film. This could only be accomplished by acquiring the latest digital projection and sound equipment. They determined that a Christie CP2210 digital projector, along with associated hardware and software, was most suited to the Beacon Theatre and would allow the theatre to offer Lakes District residents everything from first-run 3D films to acting as a venue for major events and seminars that could be broadcast live via satellite.

Through a combination of grants and loans, including funding support from Northern Development, the Lakes District Film Appreciation Society was able to move forward with its business plan to purchase and install a digital projection and sound system in the Beacon Theatre, and the theatre opened in the Fall of 2010.

"We are very proud to be financially supporting the modernization and start-up of the revitalized Beacon Theatre in Burns Lake. This project will realize a number of positive economic outcomes for Burns Lake, including revitalization of an important downtown amenity, and support of the community's event hosting capacity, while also enabling a local entrepreneurial non-profit society."

Evan Saugstad, Chair, Northern Development Initiative Trust

"The Beacon Theatre is one of the smallest cinemas in British Columbia to be equipped with digital projection and 3D technology. With this equipment, we're able to offer local residents a wider range of programming options - everything from feature films to productions supplied only in digital format."

Michael Riis-Christianson, President, Lakes District Film Society

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Positive Economic Impacts in Burns Lake

Burns Lake's downtown has faced many of the same challenges experienced by small towns throughout British Columbia over the past number of years. With the economic upheaval the Lakes District has undergone due in part to the Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic, many small businesses in the community's downtown core have closed. The Village of Burns Lake was looking at a number of downtown renewal initiatives to help bring people back to the downtown core. The reopening of the Beacon Theatre with regular showings of the latest Hollywood and independent films throughout the week is giving local residents another great reason to come downtown in the evenings as well as on weekends. The new equipment has made it possible for the Lakes District Film Appreciation Society to expand the Beacon Theatre's operations to seven days a week and the Society has created over three full-time equivelent employment positions in the community since opening.

The investment in arts and culture by the community and the funding partners has not only benefitted the Society.  It is also providing positive economic spin-offs for Burns Lake which, like many small towns in the province, has been challenged by a sluggish economy and the damage done by the mountain pine beetle epidemic.  The variety of productions that can now be seen has given residents another reason to visit downtown Burns Lake with additional customers coming from neighbouring communities. The modern equipment has also facilitated additional revenue streams for the Society including on-screen advertising and rental income for events and private screenings.   The Society now employs nine part-time workers and with revenue well ahead of projections, it has repaid its loan.  Operation of the theatre is expected to inject over $100,000 annually into the local economy. Shortly after its grand opening, Society Director Michael Riis-Christianson said that the theatre made more money in the month of May than the Society had projected for the entire year.

In May, 2011 premier of Neutral Territory which was filmed in Burns Lake and is being shown around the world. The film is a project by producer, director, actor and former Burns Lake resident Josias Tschanz and was officially released at the Beloit International Film Festival near Chicago. It has also been selected to be shown by 10 film festivals including New York, Florida and Washington and is scheduled to premiere in Beijing China, this fall. It has been nominated for a total of 12 awards, including best feature and best cinematography.

The locally shot film added to the community pride already fuelled by the reopening of the Beacon Theatre. Some local residents were recognizable in the film as extras while others had scripted parts and a local helicopter pilot and location scout also helped with the production.  Tschanz said the premier was designed to be “a big thank you to the people of Burns Lake. They made this film possible and are responsible for a lot of its success.”

While the storyline for this project diverted from the original version, the ability to go digital when it did made a world of difference to the Society’s business goals.  And for the waiting public, the show did indeed go on.

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