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The Globe and Mail

Iconic Vancouver movie theatre gets reprieve

A cyclist rides past the Ridge Theater in Vancouver, BC, August 25, 2010

lyle stafford The Globe and Mail

The venerable Ridge Theatre, birthplace of the Vancouver International Film Festival, will carry on as a movie showcase for at least another three years.

Operator Leonard Schein said Wednesday he has struck a new deal with Sonjan Enterprises Limited, the holding company that is renting out the Ridge. The new three-year lease runs through to September, 2013.

Mr. Schein said earlier this year he was planning to pull out of the 60-year-old Kitsilano cinema on Arbutus Street, which has tended to show independent, foreign and Canadian films.

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His departure this December would likely have ended the Ridge's days as a one-screen movie house in a multiplex era.

Mr. Schein said a Globe and Mail report on the situation earlier this year helped rally support for the continued operation of the Ridge, and, as a result, nudged the parties to a new deal.

"It's a fair deal for both sides. It's not a perfect deal for either side. It's a fair compromise for keeping the theatre going," said Mr. Schein, the founder and president of Festival Cinemas, which runs the 500-seat Ridge Theatre as well as the Park Theatre on Cambie and the Fifth Avenue Cinemas multiplex on Burrard.

Mr. Schein said he was really happy the landlord "was interested in releasing it to us versus putting in the Gap or some other store, which could pay much higher rent than we could ever pay."

Sondra Green of Sonjan Enterprises declined comment on details of the new agreement, but said she was happy the Ridge would remain.

"We went to him and said, 'Is there some way to come to an agreement because we would like to have you stay.'"

Ms. Green said she never felt any public pressure to come to an agreement. Nor did she ever look for a replacement occupant for the space in a 1950s-era strip mall whose other occupants include a bowling alley, a hardware store and a Meinhardt gourmet grocery-store outlet.

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Earlier this year, Mr. Schein, founder of the Vancouver International Film Festival, said he had lost money during the last four years of operating the theatre and could not continue to do so.

Mr. Schein said he is not planning any major overhaul to the complex or a change in programming. "We will be running quality films, intermixing them with film festivals," he said.

"It will be a niche market. We're looking for films that play at Sundance or at the Vancouver, Toronto or Cannes film festivals because those films like Eat Pray Love, you can really see at numerous theatres throughout the Lower Mainland. So we're trying to play exclusive films there. If you want to see the film, the Ridge would be the only [place]that it would be playing in Vancouver."

The Ridge is currently screening the tense, ferocious Australian crime drama Animal Kingdom.

Mr. Schein said 3D would theoretically be the only reasonable upgrade for the Ridge, but that it is already available in two of his other theatres. "We don't really feel we need to do 3D at the Ridge as well," he said.

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