Rio Theatre reopens as a protest to current regulations
By Alexis Zygan, Staff Writer
The petition outlines how there have been zero COVID-19 cases related to movie theatres—presenting the argument that sitting in silence watching a movie is safer than talking loudly at a bar or restaurant.
Rio Theatre, the iconic indie cinema located by Commercial Station, has been serving cinephiles since 1938, branching out to hosting live music and performance events in 2008. As one of the last independently owned and operated theatres standing in Vancouver, they encountered a risk of obsolescence in 2018. The owners listed the property on the market, hoping to displace the theatre with rental apartments. Vancouverites responded with outrage. Not the first instance where condos have jeopardized the thriving local art and culture. Thanks to an Indiegogo campaign that reached $500,000 in donations, the current owners bought out and saved the Rio Theatre from extinction.
2020 threw another curveball when Rio Theatre and other art and music venues were required to close for over half the year due to a skyrocketing number of COVID-19 cases in Vancouver. Rachel Fox, a representative for Rio Theatre, said in an email interview with the Other Press that “not being able to operate for almost six months of the past twelve has taken a toll on the business, and of course our dedicated crew of staff.”
Unlike corporations, Rio Theatre cannot afford to keep its doors closed for months without accepting the inevitable financial burden. Operating as a cinema also involves paying for film licensing, promotions, and ticket processing. The City of Vancouver took preventive measures by approving 2.05-million dollars in critical support grants to art and culture spaces impacted by COVID-19. Rio Theatre received a $375,000 grant due to its status as a cinema and entertainment space. At the end of June, theatres got the go-ahead to re-open when cases decreased significantly in Vancouver.
However, only months later, BC Health Minister Bonnie Henry extended the stay home provincial order and updated restrictions ordering cinemas to once again close; Rio Theatre complied, albeit frustrated. Her vexation culminated two months ago when Rio Theatre CEO Corrine Lea started a petition on Change.org titled “Treat Cinemas Fairly,” with a letter addressing Honourable Minister Adrian Dix and Bonnie Henry. The petition outlines how there have been zero COVID-19 cases related to movie theatres—presenting the argument that sitting in silence watching a movie is safer than talking loudly at a bar or restaurant.
With over 8,000 signatures (at the time of writing this article) Rio Theatre has yet to hear from Provincial Health authorities. Rachel Fox says to the Other Press, “we take the health and safety of staff and guests very seriously, because we really do take the view that what we, as an arts and culture venue, provide in terms of leisure, recreation, and a safe space to positively recharge one’s mental health during extremely stressful times seriously.”
When the provincial health order extended into the new year, Rio Theatre decided to enter a new market sector by operating as a bar. Their message board read, “Screw the Arts We’re a Sports Bar Now. Opening on Saturday, January 23.”
The sarcasm is unmistakable with their retort to an Instagram comment of sports emojis followed by a heart and beer made by Persephone Brewing, “@perspehone brewing the best beer to drink while watching [insert sports team here].” The change in programming is a protest against the current regulations.
Vancouver is Awesome published an opinion article regarding the state of Rio Theatre’s grant. Since Rio Theatre is only temporarily operating as a sports bar to bide their time under COVID-19 regulations and plans to continue showcasing cult classics and feel-good movies once hosting events is permissible, their grant is secure. Rachel Fox says, “patrons are so enthusiastic about what we were doing, and really invested in the progress. ‘I’m so glad you guys are doing this!’ Is something we heard from people a lot.”