Local filmmaker uncovers the stories behind Monarch Theatre.
Most 12-year-olds watch their favourite movies on the television screen and become lost in a familiar storyline, until a relevant melody brings it to an end and the credits finally roll up. At 12-years-old, Luke Fandrich was filming home-directed movies in his spare time with a handycam. And throughout the years, his interest in searching for the story and filming it in present time became a wonderfully infectious feeling.
"It’s the heritage value, the architectural significance, and the human component that has been so compelling to discover." - Luke Fandrich.
Fandrich studied film and media production at the University of Regina where he built a website to share his early work and movie-making ambitions. By 2014, the project had evolved into a production company, and he officially became the full-time artist behind Editing Luke.
Born and raised in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Fandrich directed his first feature-length documentary in 2019 titled, Clay, Creativity & the Comeback, a film that dives into the long history behind the National Historic Site, Medalta in the Historic Clay District. The response to the documentary inspired him to search out another story in Southeast Alberta.
"The Medalta project really clued me into the fact that there are fascinating stories in Medicine Hat that haven't been told in this way before. It made me realize I should create something again, find another place I'm curious about and try to put a story together, because there had to be another one. Sure enough, that was the case with the Monarch Theatre," says Fandrich.
The Monarch is believed to be one of the oldest surviving cinemas in Canada and was built in 1911. While it presented movies and stories on the inside, the Monarch's own historic story had never fully received the spotlight until Fandrich picked up his camera to film his new documentary, 'Your Cinema Needs You'.
"The interesting twist was that, by the time my funding proposal had been submitted for the new film, we found out two weeks later The Monarch was closing. This was either going to throw a wrench in things or make the story more interesting," says Fandrich.
Onward the story progressed, but not without a search for some answers. Unlike his Medalta documentary, where the filmmaker had archives, museums, and known people he could draw information from, The Monarch project was a story that was quite literally in the dark. It'd been through numerous operating companies over the years, with lots of different managers - there wasn't really a single repository for information Fandrich could draw on.
"It was a totally different challenge to take on a project where it felt like so much of it was going to be discovered as I went looking for it. It was a lot of detective work. I'd uncover one thing and that would give me another clue that brought me to my next piece of information, and so on," says Fandrich.
‘Your Cinema Needs You’ is now in post-production, and Fandrich has found a story he hasn't heard anyone tell before. With a still unspecified release planned for 2023, the filmmaker's hopes are to premiere the documentary inside the Monarch Theatre.
"The story shows that emotional component. Why is the Monarch here in the first place? What were the other theatres in town, and how did the Monarch outlast all these other cinemas? It’s the heritage value, the architectural significance, and the human component that has been so compelling to discover," says Fandrich.
The process has been eye-opening in many ways, and it's been fascinating for Fandrich to uncover a story with broad appeal. Anyone who has an interest in movies, cinematic history, or century-old cinemas will gravitate towards The Monarch, and see it as the undiscovered gem it truly is.