By Brent Holmes
It was a packed house. Vancouverites flocked to the Rio Theatre last year for a VIFF screening that was only summed up in six words: “Patrick Stewart plays a neo-Nazi.”
For the next 95 minutes, theatregoers gasped, cringed and covered their eyes as an in-over-their-heads punk rock band confronted a group of white supremacists in Green Room. By the end, everyone could breathe a sign of relief, laugh and smile as they walked out into the brisk autumn air.
The Rio Theatre describes itself as “an experience you can’t download.” The 410-seat theatre screens cult classic and independent genre films in the best way in you can watch them — with an animated audience.
Rio owner and general manager Corrine Lea says this experience is why the Rio has endured, even while many independent cinemas in Vancouver have closed their doors.
“When you come here it’s an environment where you’re going to meet people, talk to people, participate yelling out at the screen — it’s not something you can replicate at home,” says Lea.
Originally constructed in 1938, the Rio has been many things over the years (including a bowling alley) before Lea purchased it in 2008 and renovated it into a multi-functional space. When not screening cult and independent film, the theatre is regularly rented out for concerts, live performances and community events.
“We like to be open seven days a week … we don’t just rely on the cult classics, but we also do a lot of independent films that are doing the festival circuit,” says Lea. “We’ve been seeing the numbers increasing for those films, which is exciting to see an appetite in the public for it.”
According to Lea, sales have recently been up by 30 per cent for the Rio’s independent films.
The Rio’s relationship with VIFF started in 2012. At the time, VIFF was looking for a new venue to screen films after the closure of the Granville 7 Multiplex. So the Rio stepped up and filled that gap.
“The Rio was a natural venue given its location and the fact that it already had an established audience and its own culture,” says Curtis Woloschuk, VIFF Program Logistics Manager and Altered States and Canadian Images Shorts Programmer.
“When we were looking at programming and wanting to re-launch a midnight program stream. The fact that the Rio was already doing stuff like that made it a natural fit.”
This is the fourth year that VIFF has partnered with the Rio. All of the Altered States films are screened here. This includes nail-biting horror movies, quirky genre films and bizarre experimental works.
“I feel like the Rio creates an atmosphere that attracts people who aren’t regular festival goers because we are the kind of place where anyone can feel comfortable,” says Lea. “We are a fun entry-level place for anyone who wants to check out what this festival is all about.”
This year’s programming includes Operation Avalanche, a conspiracy thriller about movie geeks faking the moon landing; Another Evil, a horror comedy involving ghost hunters and exorcisms; and the terrifying We Are the Flesh.