Profile by Jane Ledwell
I’ve had a lot of different jobs, and most of them feed into my work here in the cinema,” says City Cinema owner Derek Martin. “I’ve been a stage manager for theatre, and I know about making sure a show is running on time, managing a crowd. I’ve worked in a supermarket, so I know all the pop bottle labels should be facing out, and to check the best-before dates,” he says with a smile. “I worked on a farm, so I know how to handle the 50-pound bags of popcorn that come in. I worked in the back office of an investment firm in London, so I know how to manage the books.”
The job that took Derek to London in the 1980s was, in fact, on a tall ship. “It was 1984, and the tall ships stopped in Lunenburg. I was just married, and we found out that there were paying berths on a ship to Guernsey,” Derek remembers. The Atlantic crossing was 28 days to Guernsey for $500 and a commitment to work a shift on watch, four hours on, eight hours off. “It was amazing, on the water,” he says. “Unless a freighter went by, it was the same experience as it was a thousand—or ten thousand—years ago.”
And what did he learn on the tall ship? “I was always more comfortable in bad weather being on top and seeing what was going on.”
Derek is still on watch, but what he watches now are the movies at City Cinema, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. In addition to “taking advantage of the excuse of the 20th anniversary to plan some special events,” it’s a good moment to be on deck to look back and ahead.
From the crow’s nest of the Cinema, Derek says, “There’s still no substitute for the movie-theatre experience. The movie on the big screen, sharing the experience with like-minded people… As a kid, I was teased for being a Leonard Cohen fan—‘why not just go into the corner and slit your wrists’—but when you go to a show with 1,100 other Leonard Cohen fans, you know you’re not alone.”
But the lesson from working in the cinema is, “A movie is a movie, after the lights go down.” And that, he thinks, is a great thing.
In the late 1980s, Derek settled back in PEI, primarily working in theatre: acting, stage managing, and even working as an office assistant with Theatre PEI. Sometimes, roles overlapped, as when he acted in the play “Young Maud” on the Confederation Centre Mainstage. He remembers, “I had to take off my stage manager’s stop watch to go onstage to try to seduce Lucy Maud Montgomery.”
When the King’s Playhouse in Georgetown was rebuilt after a devastating fire, Derek, with Roy Cameron, took over running the playhouse, with their Wild East Productions, presenting concerts and “really good plays—a proper summer repertory, from highbrow to Neil Simon to everything in between.” Among other highlights, Derek worked with Don Harron on a two-hander called Mass Appeal that toured to Toronto, and Wild East brought productions also to the Studio Theatre at the Confederation Centre.
At the beginning of the 1990s, Derek was hired as the executive director of the complementary programs (arts festival) for the Canada Games, to coordinate a full and rich program of writers, performing groups, and other artists from every province and territory touring “one end of the Island to the other. There was a Canadian film festival too, and Peter Richards curated that and we had a film from each province.”
This led, indirectly, to the Cinema, but after 20 years, Derek is winding down his ownership of City Cinema. “The Charlottetown Film Society, a non-profit group, is working on a business plan to take over the cinema. The board members are people who come here, who love movies, love the Cinema,” he says. “The main idea would be for very little to change from a customer’s point of view.”
And, he adds, “I’ll stay for some indefinite time as manager.”
Derek doesn’t pin down future plans. “I want to wait until I’m there,” he says. “Theatre is the one thing I would like to do. It’s collaborative, and so much more social. Also, theatre projects have a very defined beginning, middle, and end… I might be interested in going into film… Or I never did get to university, so I might get more education.”
Whatever he chooses to do, he says, “After 20 years, it’s time for a bit of variety… I feel I don’t need to be the owner of a business down the road.” As though still on ship’s watch, he says, “I believe it’s never too late for new horizons.”