You’re into movies. You’re a student, just arrived in Halifax, a city known nationally for its wealth of post-secondary institutions. If you come from Ottawa, Montreal, Charlottetown, St. John’s, even Wolfville, you’ve enjoyed having a repertory cinema nearby, a place that screens independent, foreign or even the odd Canadian film as a respite from the multiplex.
Halifax doesn’t have one. Let’s just get that out of the way from the start.
People talk in reverent tones about the old Wormwoods cinema, formerly on Gottingen Street, but since it closed years ago, despite the efforts of many well-meaning folks, nothing has risen to replace it.
But not all is lost. There are plenty of options for the keen moviegoer to enjoy films in Halifax, both mainstream and off-the-beaten path. Consider the following your film-buff survival guide.
To start with, the big boys: Empire Theatres run all the movie houses in Metro. Downtown, you can find eight screens at Park Lane (Park Lane Mall, 5657 Spring Garden). Since the addition of stadium seating, it’s a very comfortable place to see movies. Cinema #8 is the biggest room in the place, but leave yourself a few minutes to get down there, it’s quite a stroll. The Oxford (6408 Quinpool) is the finest cinema palace in the city, and Empire tends to send its more art-house fare there, such as Brick and Days of Glory, although The Oxford entertained unconscionably long runs for Phantom of the Opera and The Da Vinci Code, neither of which are particularly artful.
Further out, you’ll find more multiplexes in Dartmouth (145 Shubie Drive, Dartmouth Crossing) and Sackville (760 Sackville), but the mothership is at Bayers Lake, (not so) affectionately known as the BLIP. The cinema there boasts 18 screens plus an IMAX Theatre. Annoyingly, Empire regularly screens movies there exclusively, such as off-beat fare (500) Days of Summer and The Proposition, both of which would have been great at the Oxford. To get out to Bayers Lake, you’ll need a car or spend some time navigating the circuitous transit system.
For non-Hollywood fare, there are other options. The Annual Atlantic Film Festival runs every year and it just keeps getting bigger. You can be sure the AFF will offer pictures you’ll not see projected over the next 51 weeks in town, and preview some of the key fall releases, with screenings at the Oxford and Park Lane cinemas. In the past screenings have included Atlantic premieres for Lost in Translation, Me and You and Everyone We Know and Fugitive Pieces. Homegrown director Thom Fitzgerald’s AIDS drama 3 Needles opened the festival, and comparing the event to bigger festivals to the west, he said, “Halifax is way more festive.” The short-film programs are especially popular, so book early. The Atlantic Film Festival Association also puts on the outdoor al Fresco filmFesto, but you’ll have to wait until next summer for that to come around again, and Viewfinders Film Festival for Youth comes in April—though some of those films will screen as part of the AFF.
The Atlantic Filmmakers Cooperative, aside from being a great resource for local filmmakers, also hosts various film-related events through the year. A highlight is the regular Monday Night Movies program, which starts in September and runs until the summer, bringing in the kind of pictures a rep theatre would run, accented heavily on documentaries and foreign films—they’ve shown everything from Bubba Ho-tep to Gommorah. Screenings usually take place at Park Lane, starting at 7pm.
Other film consumption possibilities to look into include film series hosted by the Ecology Action Centre, “Nova Scotia’s most established environmental organization.” The Centre has done a series of documentary screenings, including Al Gore’s global-warming warning An Inconvenient Truth (check out ecologyaction.ca for more information). Dio Mio Gelato (5670 Spring Garden, on Brenton) screens older films in the cafe for free—Dio Mio’s listings and other free movie nights appear weekly in The Coast. Otherwise, go read a book: Free screenings often take place at local libraries and regularly accompany a speaker or presentation.
You may not know it yet, but your school might have a film organization, or, at the very least, periodic movie screenings. Dalhousie, King’s College and Saint Mary’s University all have film societies. The SMU Film Society even has a student film festival, soliciting student work from every school in the city, and showing more than two dozen films, some of which were out of the Nova Scotia Community College and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design film programs, which also show work independently. No word yet on a second edition, but keep your eyes open. Dalhousie also screens movies through its art gallery, with local film guru Ron Foley MacDonald often curating the pictures (go to artgallery.dal.ca for more info).
Finally, no real film buff is without a DVD player these days. The requisite Blockbuster and Rogers Video outlets will help you find that movie you missed at the cinema, but don’t hesitate to join the independent outlets, including Video Difference (6086 Quinpool), which boasts three floors of DVDs and TV show box sets to rent, a startling array of foreign films and documentaries, all available all the time: The location is open 24/7. Without a repertory theatre, many quality movies never get projected in Halifax cinemas, so a membership to a reliable video emporium is an essential for film-buff survival.
Visit our Student Survival Guide at thecoast.ca for detailed instructions on how to get to the Bayers Lake theatre by Metro Transit, or go straight to the source at www.halifax.caThis article was updated and amended in August 2009 to keep its information current.