Winnipeg Film Group planning relocation, new building project

Potential consequences for core area development, local film scene remain uncertain

The Winnipeg Film Group, which runs Cinematheque, says it is in the earling stages of planning a move out of the Exchange District. Kevin Legge

After more than 25 years in the Artspace Building, the Winnipeg Film Group is eyeing a move out of downtown.

The non-profit organization whose mandate is to promote independent local film and operates the Cinematheque theatre, has conducted a feasibility study and is in the early planning stages for relocation, WFG executive director Cecilia Araneda told The Uniter in an interview last week.

“A different neighbourhood is something we’re definitely looking at,” Araneda said, noting surveys have shown concerns about parking and night-time safety are preventing Winnipeggers from attending screenings.

“People always tell us they really respect the programming we offer. But what keeps them from coming (to Cinematheque) are logistics.”

Araneda also cited physical limitations of the organization’s current space, housed at 100 Arthur St. in the west Exchange District, including insufficient floor gradation in the cinema, a lack of loading docks and shortage of space for projection equipment.

According to Araneda, the group has not yet decided on a new location - the east Exchange, west Provencher, South Osborne, Corydon and West Broadway neighbourhoods are all possibilities, she said - but it has devised a loose concept for a media arts “hub.”

The group’s tentative plan is to build a two-cinema facility, one with 60 to 80 seats and one with 250 seats, that would include an expanded lobby for receptions, making the venue a more feasible location for festivals.

The building would ideally house a number of other, smaller media arts organizations, Aranda said.

“We want something that will benefit the city, let independent filmmakers reach more people with their work and encourage people to learn about media art,” she said.

“Ultimately, though, we want to do what the community wants us to do.”

Aranda was clear that a move won’t be taking place any time in the immediate future.

“It could be three years down the road ... or 10 years,” she said, noting success in securing funding will dictate the pace of the project.

“We’re not going to do this fast.”

While she notes it’s still possible the organization will ultimately re-appropriate an existing structure, according to Araneda, the group’s tentative new building plan will cost an estimated $15 million, 50 per cent of which will need to be raised from private funders.

The organization’s plan to relocate has elicited mixed reactions from members of the independent film scene it serves.

Aaron Zeghers, a local filmmaker who’s been a member of the WFG for the past six years, says the organization should be focusing its efforts elsewhere.

“The money they get from the government and members could be better used for buying gear and funding filmmakers,” he said. “The idea of building a brand new arts hub in the climate of arts funding right now is kind of a pipe dream.”

“I don’t really think the membership is crying for a new space right now, either,” he added.

Zeghers also questions the viability of a larger multi-cinema facility in an age of Netflix and tightened budgets.

“Why do you need a bigger space when it’s hard enough as it is to fill a theatre?”

The possibility of a move also prompts questions as to how the organization’s existing neighbourhood could be affected.

Jino Distasio, director of the University of Winnipeg’s Institute for Urban Studies, says the importance of the Artspace building and its largest tenant to the west Exchange can’t be understated.

“The Exchange and film have gone hand in hand for the last couple of decades,” he said. “But it (the area) has also evolved so much in recent years.

“If they’ve outgrown the space, in some ways that’s a good thing. Maybe they can help revitalize a new neighbourhood and open up opportunities for different players in the space they leave behind.”

Published in Volume 67, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 7, 2013)

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