Shaun Schmeisser was just 19 when Halifax's last rep movie house, Wormwood's Dog and Monkey Cinema, closed its doors. "I bought a membership, went to one movie, and it closed down the next week," says Schmeisser. Now, a decade later, Schmeisser finds himself involved in the possible shutdown of another rep cinema project, The Paradise Sisters Film Society, where he serves on the board of directors.
In a special meeting last week, the Paradise Sisters board proposed to wind up the society and pass on its assets, roughly $48,000 in cash, to the Atlantic Film Festival Association. Another $10,000 in equipment was potentially slated for the Atlantic Filmmakers Cooperative. The proposal sparked controversy among members---some questioning the handover of assets, some wondering about the need for a dissolution of the society at all, and some concerned about the notification process to members.
"It was kind of alarming, because here's the first I've heard in years, and it wasn't through Paradise themselves, it was through another concerned member," says Calum Johnston, one of Paradise's 474 founding members. Johnston found out about the meeting via a Facebook event started by another member, Daniel Mackay, says Johnston. "And the agenda for the meeting was essentially, we're giving up and shutting down. So I wanted to make sure I attended, because I don't think we should give up or shut down."
In the end, the 17 voting members present decided to postpone dissolution and plan an annual general meeting for the society sometime in September, complete with board elections.
"We had people there with definite viewpoints on how the society should be dealt with," says Schmeisser, "which I think was really helpful. It was kind of nice to see a little bit of passion."
"What ended up happening is said we better just think about this a little bit more and notify more of the members, so people who didn't hear about the first meeting could choose to participate or not," says former Paradise board member Ron Skibbens.
Paradise Sisters formed in 2002 with a huge outpouring of support from Halifax film fans. Within a couple years, 474 founding members were recruited, each contributing $100 toward the cause. Combined with other significant donations, Paradise Sisters raised a healthy $90,000. The society even got as far as leasing a location on Market Street, but never opened the doors and gave up the lease in 2004. The board continued to explore possible venues in Halifax, including the Khyber building, Alderney Landing, Pier 21 and the Italian Cultural Centre on Agricola Street.
"It was like a roller-coaster ride," says Schmeisser. "There was never a time where there was no potential goal we were working towards. But at some point you kind of run out of spots to look at. After six years of trying all these different options, I think we just got a bit tired of it. I think that was kind of what it really was," says Schmeisser."
The main problem has always been 'how do you get the doors open?'" says Skibbens. "I think the board has always taken the approach that what they had to do is get a quarter-million dollars together and open up a functioning theatre and have enough money to keep it going for a couple years while the audience builds. I think it's possible there's other ways to raise that quarter million, or it's possible to open up the doors with less than that."
Johnston agrees. "I don't see what's wrong with starting off with a crappy little cinema," he says. "Wormwoods started in a basement and used their money to improve. So even with $50,000 in the bank, I think you could get something going on a regular basis. Even if it wasn't a permanent home."
Johnston is now working on contacting current members about the upcoming AGM and board elections, something Skibbens will be watching closely. "It will be interesting to see who steps up to the plate," he says. "When I walked out the door I guess my feeling was it was time to wind it up. But that's open to change."Johnston is confident about the future of rep cinema in Halifax, whether it be Paradise Sisters or not. "It's not only possible, it's definite. We're going to have a rep cinema, I'd say within a few years."
Members can update their contact information at firstname.lastname@example.org Cal Johnston is interested in talking to other members. Email email@example.com to get in touch.