Growing up in small-town Saskatchewan in the 1980s, the local movie theater was a vital connection to the outside world, especially in the pre-VCR and pre-satellite TV era, which I remember all too well. I grew up on a farm, so I didn't even have cable. Just two channels we got over the air. So, it was always exciting when we had a chance to go to "the show" at 8:00 p.m. on Friday or Saturday night. Even though movies tended to arrive in Foam Lake months after they were released in the broader world, it was our only real opportunity to see Hollywood's latest offerings.
The first movie I recall seeing at our theater was during the annual Santa Claus matinee. I don't remember the title. All I know is that it was a black-and-white film that took place in the military and involved a donkey (it could have been this film). It was more of a social event than a movie-watching experience though. We were mainly there for when Santa showed up at the end to hand out treat bags, which contained candy, peanuts in the shell, and a mandarin orange, which was a rarity for me back then.
One of my most vivid memories from that era was seeing The Empire Strikes Back. At nine years old, I stood in the doorway of my sister's bedroom as we were about to leave for the theater, trying to help her understand what a momentous occasion it was. She just laughed at how serious I was about it. A few years later, I went on my first date to see Return of the Jedi, but I was too afraid to hold my girlfriend's hand. (She stopped being my girlfriend about a month after that. I guess I literally let her slip through my fingers.) I also recall my dad taking us to see Airplane. We were far too young to see that film when we did, but I think Mom had told him to get us all out of the house, so she could have the night off. Hangar 18, a movie about a UFO cover-up, also stands out, as does being told to quiet down while watching Footloose. Then there was lining up to see Tim Burton's Batman. The line extended down the street, which was rare for any movie. A huge comic book collector at that point, I was right there for the first screening on Friday night in my Batman T-shirt with the classic yellow-and-black logo.
I often wonder what my life would be like today if Foam Lake didn't have a movie theater. Would I have gone off and gotten involved in the film business myself? I also chuckle when I think of some of the movies I saw at that theater, wondering if the filmmakers ever dreamed their movies would resonate with a starry-eyed, pimple-faced teenager who lived on a farm outside a tiny town in the prairies dreaming of the day he might make it to Tinseltown.
I know one thing that would be different if we didn't have a movie theater growing up: the Milligan Creek Series. I'm having so much fun writing this sixth book, Quiet on Set!, which is a love letter to movies, the movie industry, movie theaters, and small-town life. I hope I can do justice to all four of those influences.
The movie theater in Foam Lake is still operating, after a fashion. No longer showing first-run films, it screens movies on Blu-ray and is available for private events. I got a chance to peek inside it a few years ago right before it was renovated. Not much had changed, thankfully. I'm just glad the people in the community decided to save it rather than let it drift into decay, as happens to so many old buildings on the prairies. Here are a couple of photos that show how the theater looks today. As I said, not much about it has changed. So, when you read about the theater in my new book, picture this place.
Brief thoughts and updates on writing, publishing, and life