This month, we chatted with Heather Noel at Metro Cinema running out of the Garneau Theatre in Edmonton, Alberta. This community-run venue with a mandate for independent film and inventive guest programming has long been a jewel in Canada’s cinema landscape.
Tell us about Metro Cinema:
Metro Cinema is a community-based, not-for-profit organization in Edmonton, Alberta. Metro’s roots trace back to The National Film Theatre, a Canada-wide network of film exhibition organizations established in the early 1970s. Since rebranding as The Metro Cinema Society in 1988, the organization has inhabited a number of venues, and its mandate has evolved over time. In 2011 we moved to our current home in Edmonton’s historic Garneau Theatre, a single screen, 520 seat theatre that began operations in 1940.
What makes Metro Cinema unique?
I think the size and geography of Edmonton as a fairly isolated “big little town” puts us in the unique position of having to serve many audiences all at once. As a multipurpose venue, our programming combines the types of films and activities that are often happening in 3 or 4 different venues in a larger centre.
Many of our screenings are partnerships with local community organizations (The Pride Centre, Alliance Française, etc.) Additionally, as a community-run cinema, we run an annual call for guest programming proposals, and each month we feature a 3-6 film series that is programmed and hosted by a community member. We love the way these initiatives help to diversify our programming and reach unique audiences.
What sort of films do you show?
Our programming is a mix of new and repertory titles, mainstream, arthouse and cult. Edmonton has a large horror fanbase, so we definitely find ourselves catering to that audience a bit.
About 20% of our screenings consist of rental events with community partners, which can include anything from film festivals, to Fringe Festival performances, to weddings.
What are Metro Cinema’s greatest challenges?
The size of our venue, matched with the population we draw from makes for some unique challenges. With a 500-seat theatre and the associated overhead costs, it is tempting to run a lot of one-time screenings of repertory titles. This means we often screen over 40 titles in a single month, which can be taxing for communications, file ingestion and testing, and programming. Another challenge is competition for independent/arthouse new release titles from the Landmark location downtown – we often have to wait for them to turn down a title or run it for a week before we can book it.
What are your favourite compliments that Metro Cinema receives from your audience?
We love all the positive feedback we get about our programming and our venue, but the best response is always the compliments we get on our friendly and helpful staff. We’ve got a great team!
What’s a memorable film screening or event you hosted?
Most recently, our sellout screening of Skinamarink on opening night with cast and crew in attendance was pretty sensational! But one of my all-time favourites may be our grand opening after moving to the Garneau Theatre – a film print of The Passion of Joan of Arc with a live original score.
What are your most popular concession items?
Obviously popcorn, pop, and beer! Twizzlers, Nibs and Sour Patch Kids are popular candies.
What projects are you considering for the future?
We are really hoping we can bring a high profile filmmaker to the theatre for a retrospective and moderated conversation in 2023. Someone with name recognition and a notable body of work who is still indie enough to be within our reach. It can be very difficult to convince artists to come to Edmonton sometimes. Would love suggestions from other theatres if they’ve had success with this kind of programming!
Tell us about yourself; how did you get your start in film exhibition?
I grew up in a pretty film-obsessed household, and my adult life has always revolved around film in some capacity or another. I started working in video stores at the age of 19, and co-owned an independent here in Edmonton from 2008 to 2013. After a maternity year, I worked at FAVA, Edmonton’s society of independent filmmakers, programming workshops and coordinating events. At the same time, I volunteered for Metro on the programming committee, and later the Board of Directors. I’ve been the programmer at Metro since December 2021, and it’s no exaggeration to say that it has been a dream job!