Terminal City, April 18 2003

By Brian Salmi

After a very successful five-year run, the Blinding Light, Vancouver's most eclectic cinema, will close its doors for good in July. Alex MacKenzie, the man behind the magic at the little gastown theatre, says the only regret he has is that he could have slept a little more and adds that he is shutting down because he wants a break and a chance to move on to other things, not because the venture is no longer viable.

"It was a great run, and I want to keep feeling good about it - not grow old and bitter," says MacKenzie. "that was always 'the plan' - to do it for five years." But, "I don't have any interest in doing it again elsewhere, unless it is on top of a mountain or in a cave maybe."

MacKenzie is refreshingly positive about the willingness of Vancouverites to embrace new, novel concepts, a sentiment that is not often expressed by artistic entrepreneurs here on the west coast, "I highly encourage others to take the plunge on making things happen in this town - it is a good place to start new things, it has potential about it, and a very receptive population."

The theatre's success lends evidence to the contention that, "If you built it, they will come." According to MacKenzie, "The Blinding Light has been a hatching ground for a wide range of artists and experiments, cross-pollinating artistic practices and helping to encourage new modes of expression." In a society that is largely comprised of drones who are devoid of imagination, who fear true creativity and who appreciate almost no art unless it is mass-marketed to them, the Blinding Light has been a home for many who simply do not (and do not want to) fit in with the Ken and Barbie crowd. "Groups like the Eye of Newt, Multiplex Grand, The Narcoleptic Videographer and many others have been able to cut their teeth in this space allowing and taking risks that wouldn't have been otherwise possible."

The Blinding Light has been North America's only full-time underground cinema, a fact MacKenzie is rightly proud of. Part of the success of the Blinding Light would have to be that MacKenzie had done it all before. Prior to opening in Gastown, MacKenzie operated the Edison Electric Gallery of Moving Images on Commercial Drive for two years, which worked as a "tester for the larger project." But, even with all of his experience and drive, MacKenzie says it would not have been possible without the enormous efforts of more than 40 volunteers, for which he is grateful.

As for what he learned over the past five years MacKenzie replies, "Political film crowds leave a big mess behind; some audiences are too big, but no audience is too small and 125 bodies in a theatre for 1 1/2 hours in the summer actually transforms oxygen into airborne sweat."

When asked if The Blinding Light would have been even more successful had it been located on Theatre Row (on Granville), MacKenzie laughs, "I wouldn't be caught dead up there," and adds, "the Downtown Eastside rocks!"