As the Vogue Cinema on Bridge Street prepares to celebrate its 70th anniversary, the Sackville landmark faces a pressing financial threat.
The Vogue Cinema was built in 1946 by local businessman M.E. Coates. Since then, the single-screen, art deco theatre has passed through the hands of seven different owners and has upheld its old-fashioned charm. Jeff Coates is the seventh and current owner of the Vogue. Coates began working at the Vogue in 1995 and purchased it in 2006.
In 2012, a nationwide conversion to digital film projection forced the Vogue to adapt. Coates was able to convert to digital projection through a loan from a private investor. According to Coates, his private investor has recently requested to be paid in full and released from the commitment.
Coates said the conversion to digital caused him to nearly double the debt he had already incurred with the purchasing of the theatre. Though Coates has paid off much of his initial debt, he said he has gone into arrears with other bill payments in the wake of trying to pay off the private investor.
Coates has until Oct. 31 to secure funding before the investor would legally have the ability to seize the equipment.
“The business sustained itself before and it can sustain itself again,” Coates said. “I just need to get over this hurdle.”
Coates said he tries not to consider a possible closure of the Vogue. “I’m booking events for November and December, I’m still planning stuff, I want to be here,” he said.
“The Vogue is a gathering place,” Coates said. “It’s a centre of the town, it serves a purpose. The last thing this town needs is to have another venue close down.”
Thaddeus Holownia, a professor of fine arts at Mount Allison, has been running the Sackville Film Society for 36 years. The Film Society shows 26 films per year on Thursdays at the Vogue. Except for a few years during which the Society met in the Crabtree auditorium, for most of its lifetime the Society has called the Vogue home.
Holownia said he doesn’t know what would happen were the Vogue to close or have its projection equipment seized. Holownia said the only other viable space in town might be the Crabtree auditorium, and the use of that room by the Film Society would require the purchase of a new projection system and screen.
“I think the Vogue is by-and-large an overlooked jewel of Sackville,” Holownia said. “In my mind, a movie theatre is a social place where people come, see the movie in a collective, and that’s what happens on Thursday nights. It’s a very different experience than having people sit in front of a TV or, even worse, a computer screen with headphones on. That experience, and having that physical place, is so important to the community.”
Mt. A alum and former Film Society attendee Allison Grogan said she agrees that there is value in watching movies “the way they were meant to be seen.”
“What the partnership between the Film Society and the Vogue allows is the full experience of sitting down once a week with friends, seeing a movie that you might never otherwise have the chance to see, and then [having] that dialogue that continues after the credits roll,” Grogan said.
As for the future of the Vogue, Holownia sees necessary changes ahead. “I think you have to change with the times, and I think that running a movie theatre seven days a week, I don’t think that’s a good formula,” he said. Holownia suggested possibilities such as only showing films four nights per week and expanding external uses of the space.
Holownia and Grogan both stressed the importance of students supporting the Vogue. Holownia said in the first few years of Film Society, an average of 60 per cent of attendees were Mt. A students. Now, Holownia said the number is closer to 20 per cent.
Coates has created a “GoFundMe” online fundraiser with a goal of $25,000 to cover the funds he needs to pay off his debt for the digital equipment.