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Overhauled liquor laws trip up Vancouver film centre

Alan Franey, founding festival director of the Vancouver International Film Centre stands in front of the VIFF's centre in downtown Vancouver in 2006.

Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail/Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

Liquor laws that were overhauled to give more flexibility to venues such as Vancouver's Rio Theatre, which shows live events and films, have wound up reducing options for at least one other venue, the Vancouver International Film Centre.

Under the recently amended regulations, so-called "special occasion licences" are not available for the screening of a film or broadcast at any location, a provincial liquor official said in a Feb. 15 letter to Film Centre chairman Michael Francis.

That means groups who rent the centre for an event – such as the Women in Film and Television film festival scheduled for March – won't be able to apply for a liquor licence that would allow film-goers to consume an alcoholic beverage before watching a movie.

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The Film Centre holds a "liquor primary" licence of its own, but as of Thursday, centre staff were still trying to figure out whether that licence would allow the centre to serve alcohol at events put on by groups that lease the facility.

"That's one of the issues I need to get clarity on," Barbara Chirinos, the centre's gala producer, said on Thursday. "Because under our licence, we are only able to serve beer and wine to our members and their guests."

The centre is also scrambling to understand and comply with regulations concerning minors at its facility. Up until now, the centre sold memberships to anyone 18 or older, even though the legal drinking age is 19, and allowed minors into the facility as long as they were accompanied by an adult.

The centre's new licence, sent along with the letter, removes conditions that allowed accompanied minors to be present before and during a show.

"The real headache is just making sure we interpret the letter correctly and that we adhere to the regulations of the Liquor Distribution Board," Ms. Chirinos said. "Up until we received this letter, we were in complete compliance with our liquor licence.

"We were interpreting it correctly, we've had no infractions whatsoever so we believed we were doing everything correctly."

The letter came after the centre asked the province to temporarily suspend its licence for the Women in Film and Television film festival on March 8.

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The province overhauled some of its liquor regulations following a high-profile campaign by Vancouver's Rio Theatre.

Its operator lobbied for a licence that would allow the theatre to serve alcohol during live events but still show movies – without alcohol – at other times. In January, the Rio got a liquor licence, but it came with a condition that the theatre could not show movies.

Last Thursday, B.C. Minister of Energy and Mines Rich Coleman, who took over the liquor portfolio this month, announced that regulations would be changed to allow licence holders to screen films and broadcast pay-per-view programs outside the hours outlined in their liquor licence. Licence holders are still not permitted to serve liquor during screening of movies.

There has been a chorus of complaints about liquor laws in the province, with critics arguing the laws are too complex and don't accommodate festivals or catered events.

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