Lethbridge and area has had a long association with the movie industry, from presenting films on the big screen to serving as a film backdrop, and even to producing people who have gone on to work in the industry.
A new exhibit coming to the Galt Museum & Archives will showcase southwestern Alberta’s varied connections to films. The exhibit, “Cinescapes: Movies in Southwestern Alberta,” will open May 19, then will be the focus of “The Curator Presents…” event May 27 from 2-3 p.m., with Galt curator Aimee Benoit presenting an insider’s view of the exhibit.
The launch event will include red-carpet treatment for visitors and fun movie trivia presented by Chris Epplett of the University of Lethbridge History Department.
Museum admission fees will apply, but the event is free to Galt annual pass and invitation holders.
Lethbridge’s link to films dates back more than a century when movies were a new and exciting form of entertainment. A Galt Museum blog titled “The Silver Screens of Lethbridge Past” notes that this new medium was first shown in Lethbridge way back in 1897 “when the first examples of moving pictures were shown in Lethbridge” using what was called a Theatrograph.
Lethbridge’s first theatre was the Bijou (meaning The Jewel) Theatre, built in 1907. It was followed in 1908 by The Lyceum (next to the Alec Arms Hotel on 5 Street South) and, the same year, by the Eureka Theatre. In 1910, the Griffith Theatre joined the crowd, along with the Grand Electric Theatre, which stayed open for just a few months. The Morris Theatre and the Monarch Theatre opened in 1911. The city’s theatre boom was capped in 1913 with the opening of the Roxy Theatre. The theatres went through numerous name changes over the years.
The 1930s and ’40s was what Benoit calls “the era of the picture palace” — elaborate theatres like the Capitol Theatre (originally the Morris Theatre). “It felt very grandiose going to this theatre,” she says, noting attending movies had become “a cultural event.”
The theatre experience moved outdoors around 1950 when the Western Drive-In (later known as the Green Acres Drive-In) opened, giving people an opportunity to watch movies while sitting in their own vehicles.
Around the same time, the Paramount Theatre opened, and the building, though now serving a different purpose, still stands downtown on 4 Avenue South. It was the first theatre in the city to feature two screens, and later gave way to the modern multiplexes.
You can find more about Lethbridge’s theatre history online at http://galtmuseum.blogspot.ca/2012/10/the-silver-screens-of-lethbridge-past.html.
While the city has long been home to venues showing films, the area also has a long history as a location for filmmakers, beginning back in 1920 with “Cameron of the Royal Mounted,” a silent movie produced by Ernest G. Shipman. The Galt exhibit will feature a clip from that film.
Southern Alberta locales have appeared in a number of films since then, including the 1976 movie “Superman” starring Christopher Reeve; the 1980 TV movie “Amber Waves” starring Dennis Weaver and Kurt Russell; “Finders Keepers,” a 1984 comedy with Michael O’Keefe and Beverly D’Angelo; 2007’s “Passchendaele,” partly filmed in Fort Macleod; and 2014’s “Interstellar,” also partly shot in Fort Macleod.
“Cinemascapes” will also feature southern Albertans who have been involved in the movie industry, including Faye Wray, who starred in the 1933 classic “King Kong.” She originally hailed from Cardston.
More recently, Eugene Brave Rock from the Kainai Reserve was featured in the 2017 film “Wonder Woman.”
“I was surprised, a lot of people from Lethbridge and southwestern Alberta have been successful in various aspects of filmmaking,” says Benoit.
The Galt exhibit will include a creature handcrafted by filmmaker C. Blake Evernden for the 2015 film “Prairie Dog,” which is a blend of western and 1940s-’50s creature film. The film’s cast included southern Alberta actors, among them New West Theatre veteran Kathy Zaborsky.
Benoit says the creature Evernden made for actors to interact with during filming is “really quite fantastic.”
“Cinemascapes” will feature many other hands-on items and audio-visual components to give visitors a real behind-the-scenes look at movie-making.
The exhibit will be on display until Sept. 3.