In this time of loss and change, many long-time Canberrans felt the double pangs of loss and nostalgia with the recent announcement that the six-screen Capitol Cinema in Manuka will remain permanently closed when other cinemas reopen their doors post-COVID.
However, this isn't the first time that cinema has closed.
Many locals have fond memories of the venue over nearly a century, and the return of a cinema to what may be a new development on the site by current owners, Liangis Developments Pty Ltd, seems possible.
Back in the day, just over the border of the newly designated national capital, the thriving country town of Queanbeyan already boasted two cinemas from around 1913, long before the Capitol Cinema in Manuka opened its doors in 1927.
Delivering both film and live programming to the growing Canberra community, the thousand-seat venue regularly filled to capacity, though it began sharing its audience when new drive-ins and cinemas blossomed through the 1960s.
The audience was predominantly women.
The loss of the original Manuka venue was lamented by the community when it closed in 1980, with the building pulled down to make way for a multi-use development that opened with a single-screen cinema in 1983.
This is the cinema I remember from my teenage years; I saw Back to the Future there in 1985.
The single-screen closed for a period while building owners redeveloped the site around the existing cinema, adding two additional screens on the second floor.
Tony Gaggin moved to Canberra from Wollongong in 1993 to manage the cinema in his role as Greater Union Cinemas area manager.
Gaggin remembers fondly the time and the local community who very strongly supported the newly reopened venue, which coincided with a resurgence in quality Australian film and a rising popularity in arthouse cinema.
"When we opened the doors we were lucky to have The Adventures of Priscilla and Muriel's Wedding in quick succession," Gaggin says.
Gaggin also remembers Manuka Cinema as a "great training ground for staff".
One of those former staff is Nick Jario, whose mother put a Canberra Times job ad for candy bar staff at Greater Union Manuka under his eyes after he had spent too much of his university summer holidays with an Xbox controller in his hands.
For Jario, whose grandmother recalled fondly the old Capitol Cinema in her younger days as a Finnish immigrant to Canberra, the time is one of fond memories and learning experiences.
"I think people who work in cinemas gather a cinema family around them," Jario says.
He remembers friendships formed over selecting music for the PA system, staff coming together to live in a share house, and meeting his first long-term girlfriend, who was one of the ushers.
Jario trained as an old-school celluloid film projectionist under Gary Kercher, one of Canberra's cinema royalty - Gary's father Ted was a projectionist at Canberra's Center Cinema from the 1960s to the early 2000s.
"I really loved engaging with the craft of projection, lacing projectors," Jario says.
"Projection work seems deceptively simple but it requires a diligent care and checking and rechecking of your work, and it is one of those roles that is thankless when it is done well, and people certainly notice when you don't do it well.
"I was there for the last session of projected film at Manuka before the transition to digital projection.
"People talk about being replaced by a machine, but I literally was," he says, laughing.
Cinema industry veteran Paul Brennan programmed the cinema over many years as it added another floor, a further three screens, and a shockingly steep flight of stairs to get to them.
Brennan says that despite the cinema's flaws, he was constantly shocked at how loyal its customers were.
"The audience was predominantly women," he says, "and they loved that the cinema wasn't in a shopping centre, that it was in a safe suburb, and that it was in a stylish suburb."
Brennan says a series of building works at Manuka coinciding with the opening of the Palace Electric Cinema in New Acton in 2011 saw a drain of customers to the other side of the lake.
John Liangis of Liangis Developments Pty Ltd told The Canberra Times in May that the building had reached its end-of-life, though their plans for a redevelopment of the site with hotel and possible cinema were ''on hold'' due to the uncertain nature of the current era.
Canberrans are already well provided with venue choices from the two Hoyts cinemas (Woden and Belconnen), Canberra City's Dendy and Palace venues, and Tuggeranong's Limelight.
Three local regional venues are in various stages of development, with Gungahlin residents waiting on the planned two-storey cinema complex on Hindler Street to be operated by United Cinemas, the Sydney-region cinema chain who recently took over the Opera Quays site. The United chain's name is also attached to a planned cinema on Morriset Street, Queanbeyan.
In Yass, the long-closed art deco Liberty Cinema is undergoing a fundraising and restoration project under the helm of cinema industry veteran Paul Brennan, who hopes to restore screenings after Easter 2021.
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