At Iqaluit’s Astro Theatre, the show goes on under new owners
“We love film and we’re not in this strictly for financial considerations”
The two screens at Iqaluit’s much-loved Astro Theatre will continue to glow every week with the flickering light of first-run movies — but from now on, under new owners.
Piksuk Media Inc. of Clyde River, owned by Joelie Sanguya, Charlotte DeWolff and Ole Gjerstad, announced Aug. 13 they’ve bought the business from its longstanding proprietor, Bryan Pearson.
“I’ve been at it for long enough,” Pearson said.
Pearson opened the Astro Theatre, which is tucked into a corner of the high rise complex, on the weekend of April 5, 1996, with showings of Jumanji, starring Robin Williams, and Rumble in the Bronx with Jackie Chan.
His involvement with the cinema business stretches back to the middle of the last century.
In 1952, he worked as assistant manager at a movie theatre in Collaroy, Australia. After arriving in Frobisher Bay, as Iqaluit was then known, he operated a cinema for a while inside a prefabricated structure in the Base area that had been left behind by the U.S. air force.
And Pearson loves to tell the story of how in 1975 he organized the premiere showing of The White Dawn, shot in Iqaluit by director Phillip Kaufman, for an audience that included Charles, the Prince of Wales.
Pearson said he has negotiated with Piksuk since last year and believes he’s leaving the Astro in good hands.
“The theatre’s been here a long time and for all those years it’s been important to the community. Life would be pretty boring without it. I’m pleased to leave it with people who are in the film business and who plan on showing good pictures,” Pearson said.
Pearson will stay on for a while as a contractor to help Piksuk get through the transition period. That will include introducing them to his staff and suppliers and showing them how he books new films.
And he said he’ll continue to operate his longstanding funeral service and bed and breakfast businesses and that he has no plans to leave Iqaluit in the foreseeable future.
Piksuk Media is a multimedia production firm that specializes in work devoted to Inuit culture and history.
Some of their recent creations include the six-part reality series Nunavut Quest: Race Across Baffin and Qimmit: A Clash of Two Truths.
The Inuktitut version of Nunavut Quest will start its broadcast run on APTN at 2:30 p.m. eastern time, Sept. 7 and in prime time at 8:30 p.m. eastern time Sept. 15.
Gjerstad said the Astro Theatre’s name will not change and that they remain committed to the screening of first-run films.
For the medium term, Piksuk will renovate the lobby area, install new seating and look at expanding the range of offerings at the concession stand.
“We love film and we’re not in this strictly for financial considerations,” Ole Gjerstad of Piksuk said.
And they’ll “carefully” study the business to figure out the film-going tastes of Iqaluit’s diverse population and consider showing more Inuit and Arctic films and documentaries, Gjerstad said.
At the same time, they will look at the possibility of screening films for small niche audiences in Iqaluit, such as francophones, Latin Americans and Africans.
“We have to find our audience and we have to be prudent,” Gjerstad said.
Other long-term projects could include using the Astro Theatre to host a film festival and to organize film showings in other communities.
For now, an independent, Iqaluit-based cinema enjoys a big advantage: northern Canada’s costly and lead-footed internet services.
This means that, for now, the Astro Theatre faces less competition from digital competitors like Netflix and iTunes.
“Iqaluit is very special,” Gjerstad said.
What’s showing at the Astro this week? As of Aug. 13, you can choose between The Bourne Legacy, Ice Age: Continental Drift and The Dark Knight Rises, which is entering its second week.