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IMAX Victoria welcomes first Canadian premiere in almost two years this weekend

The first première at IMAX Victoria in more than 18 months is set for this weekend, which comes at an opportune time for fans who are making the seasonal switch and turning to indoor activity for their entertainment.
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A Weddell seal pup and its mother in a scene from Antarctica, which has its Canadian première on Saturday at IMAX Victoria. BBC

ON SCREEN

What: Antarctica
Where: IMAX Victoria, 675 Belleville St.
When: Oct. 16-26
Tickets: $11.95 (children ages two and under are free)

The first première at IMAX Victoria in more than 18 months is set for this weekend, which comes at an opportune time for fans who are making the seasonal switch and turning to indoor activity for their entertainment.

The imminent arrival of Antarctica, a BBC Earth/SK Films co-production narrated by Academy Award nominee Benedict Cumberbatch, brings to a close an unprecedented run of stop-start activity at the popular Belleville Street theatre. The 45-minute film, which employs the latest underwater filming techniques, opens at 11 a.m. Saturday and is the first in a series of daily Antarctica showings (at 11 a.m., 2 p.m., and 6 p.m.) through Oct. 26.

Even though the theatre is currently running at 50 per cent capacity, due to provincial health regulations, the novelty of a new film coming to the screen in both standard and 3D formats — for the first time since the pandemic began — is not lost on theatre operators. “The theatre was closed for over nine months, and was closed for a period before that as well, all because of the pandemic,” said Erika Stenson, acting vice-president of museum operations.

“Overall, it was almost a year of closure.”

The theatre finally re-opened its doors Sept. 3 after being shuttered to the public over COVID-19 concerns since November 2020. Its return — with previously released films Humpback Whales, Asteroid Hunters, Turtle Odyssey and Sea Lions: Life By a Whisker — has been free to this point of Hollywood features, which have been mainstays at IMAX Victoria in recent years. The New James Bond film, No Time To Die, would have been a good fit for the theatre, but distribution of A-list first-run features has been complicated of late.

Stenson said IMAX Victoria’s return was met with widespread approval from audiences, however. Blockbusters or no blockbusters. “The response has been phenomenal. Its ebbs and flows during the week, with schools back in, but people are very excited.”

The theatre is operating with a reduced capacity of 181 seats, as per the provincial mandate, Stenson said. Masks are also required, as is proof of having at least one dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine vaccination (as of Oct. 24, guests will need to have received two doses.) “It is what has become the normal experience during this time,” Stenson said.

IMAX Victoria doesn’t always look the way it once did, but when the film arrives on screen its echoes the pre-pandemic atmosphere, she added. “We want to make sure visitors still feel safe in the space. We have social distancing in the theatre, so groups can sit together, but we are encouraging people to leave space [between the seats] and be aware of who is around them.”

Seasonal tradition The Polar Express is headed back to IMAX Victoria for its Christmastime run — a sign that normalcy is around the corner. Stenson would not divulge any other future programming, but said the theatre in definitely back in business. Antarctica, which is from the filmmakers behind IMAX favourites Wings Over Water and Bugs! A Rainforest Adventure, appears to be the beginning of an influx of large-format films.

“We’re gauging how well the films are doing and what people are interested in and we’re making decisions on bookings that way. It’s a bit of a moving target. We want to make sure we have a good mix for the visitors but we don’t want to take stuff off the schedule if people are still visiting and enjoying the films.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com