Success for the Lakes District Film Society

The future looks bright for Burns Lake's Beacon Theatre.

Lakes District Film Society directors John Illes and Anne Currie cut a ribbon to officially open the Beacon Theatre.

Lakes District Film Society directors John Illes and Anne Currie cut a ribbon to officially open the Beacon Theatre.

The future looks bright for Burns Lake’s Beacon Theatre.

Last week the Lakes District Film Society held a grand opening event for the 100 plus local community members and businesses that purchased seats during the theatre’s ‘adopt-a-seat’ campaign.’ Corporate sponsors were also invited to attend the evening’s festivities which included a ribbon cutting, cake and coffee and a special screening of the movie, ‘Soul Surfer.’

According to society president Michael Riis-Christianson, the theatre has received an enormous amount of support from the community.

He said the idea for the theatre first passed across his desk at Comfor Management Services Ltd. (CMSL) where he works. He was asked to look over the idea to purchase the theatre as part of the community forest but he recommended to CMSL that they, “Stick to what they know best.”

“I couldn’t get the idea for the theatre out of my head,” said Riis-Christianson, adding that this is what led to the Lakes District Film Society being formed.

Getting the theatre up and running hasn’t been an easy road for the volunteers and they have run into more than a few bumps along the way.

The learning curve has also been steep as they have hard to learn, and then teach theatre staff, how to operate the theatre’s equipment with minimal training.

According to Riis-Christianson when the society purchased the theatre they were told it came complete with 1990’s projector which they thought, “wasn’t too bad.”

Then a week before the theatre was due to open the projector broke down.

Riis-Christianson phoned around looking for a bulb for the projector to get it up and running again. He was directed to a company in New Orleans by someone who told him they ‘might’ have the bulb.

When Riis-Christianson phoned to ask, he discovered that what the society thought was a 1990’s projector was actually a 1970’s model.

Not only were parts hard to come by but the technology was very outdated.

“We were told that digital technology was the way to go … were always planning to go digital … it was on the books, it just wasn’t on the first page of the books,” he said.

Luckily another Canadian theatre had cancelled it’s order for a digital projector and it was offered to The Beacon.

“There was a waiting list for digital projectors and with only a week until we were due to open, I made a decision to accept the offer even though I knew we didn’t have the money to pay for it,” Riis-Christianson said.

According to Riis-Christianson the digital projector cost upwards of $100,000 and the society had just $30,000 in the bank.

They then applied for $30,000 grant from the Northern Development Initiative Trust and a $50,000 loan from the Bulkley Valley Credit Union (BVCU) Lakes District branch and were successful in achieving both.

Now the digital theatre is up and running and many community members have passed through the doors to see NHL playoff games, 3-D movies and Broadway musicals streamed live to Burns Lake.

“Our dream has become a reality,” he said.

To date, with the success of the adopt-a-seat campaign the $50,000 loan from BVCU has almost been paid back, within one year. Something the society is incredibly proud of.

The first ever movie to be shown in the theatre was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. “We had a great turn out,” said Riis-Christianson.

The most popular movie of the 45 movies that have been shown at the theatre to date has been Yogi Bear in 3D. “We had more than 500 people come through the theatre in four days,” he added.

Riis-Christianson also said that the theatre made more money in the month of May than the society was expecting for the entire year. “Although we still have six months left in the budget, our revenues are currently ahead of budget,” he said.

The society originally planned to staff the theatre with volunteers, but have now employed seven people as well as a part time book keeper.

More alternative programming is planned starting in September, including the streaming of live rock concerts and theatre events as well as more Broadway musicals.

“We also hope to bring in a live comedy act sometime before the end of the year,” Riis-Christianson added.