Vandalism of independent theatres reaches Waterloo Region

On Feb. 23, two individuals entered Princess Cinemas in plain sight. Soon after, the pair was seen damaging one of the screens in the theatre before quickly exiting the premises.

Princess Cinemas was one of three independent cinemas the suspects vandalised that day, during a string of incidents that is now being investigated by police. 

Initial reports circulating online suggested the incidents could be a social media stunt, as one of the suspects in the video appeared to be filming the event on a cellphone. Other reports suggested the incident might be racially motivated. 

John Tutt, owner of Princess Cinemas, said Halton Regional Police and Waterloo Regional Police Services are now investigating a different motive.

Tutt said there was however, one common thread between all three cinemas—all theatres were showing a movie that has a possible turf war over its distribution.

“We didn’t know that there was sort of this backroom turf war between film distributors in the Toronto market,” Tutt said.

Similar incidents have plagued movie theatres in Ontario for several years. Although this is the first time such an incident has occurred at an independent cinema in KW, it is becoming an on-going trend in the GTA. 

“Let’s say one distributor doesn’t like another distributor. And he or she sees that distributors’ films are starting to make rounds in theatres and getting bookings for private events. And then the one distributor sends out [people to damage] the screens in advance of those films playing in specific theatres,” Tutt said. 

The goal of rival distributors is to directly sabotage another distributor’s ticket sales and success by forcing cinemas to cancel the screenings of their film. 

“It’s a very, very competitive industry,” Tutt added.

The vandalism is just another setback for the cinema following months of lockdowns and restrictions that have impacted their business. 

Unfortunately, the damages were not covered by insurance and will cost Princess Cinemas thousands of dollars in repairs. The screen was temporarily repaired, but Tutt admitted it was not a perfect solution, referencing visible bubbles on its surface. 

Princess Cinemas has already ordered a new screen which will be installed imminently. 

Despite the challenge the situation has posed, Tutt said the outpouring of community support has been overwhelming.

There is now a GoFundMe raising money to cover the cost of the screen.

Tutt said the uptown Waterloo wine bar Babylon Sisters has also offered to host a live concert with proceeds going towards the replacement screen.