Internet killed the video star, er, store

About a year after my favourite movie rental place in Ottawa, Invisible Cinema, closed its doors I learn today that the only other downtown rental shop, Elgin St. Video, is also set to close. Well, shit.

There are now no more movie rental places in downtown Ottawa, though Glebe Video carries on farther south. To mark this sad day, here’s a column I wrote last year for the late Herald Magazine on the importance of movie rental stores and how we’re all a bunch of dumb idiots for letting them die off.

BY PAUL McLEOD

When I tell people I still rent movies from a store they look at me like I’m a doctor treating my patients with leaches.

To most people, leaving your house to watch a movie seems quaint and nostalgic like the Walkman, horse-drawn carriages, or, some would say, printing news on actual paper.

But I’m going to keep spreading the word no matter how often people say they “only watch Netflix” or “we get it, shut up about movie rentals already.” Here’s why: movie rentals aren’t dead and they’re much more important than people think.

Not that anyone could be criticized for thinking rentals are a thing of the past. A decade ago Blockbuster and Rogers were the big players in Canada. Blockbuster declared Bankruptcy in 2010 and Rogers announced it was getting out of the rental business two years later.

Rental sales plummeted over the past decade while video on demand services like Netflix exploded. And of course online piracy is common.

But a funny thing happened. Rogers and Blockbuster were bad rental shops, and when they died it was the smaller independent shops who survived. And many of those happen to be fantastic.

These shops act as a hub for the local filmmaker and film-lover communities. As independent theatres die out these stores become some of the last places people can regularly go to discuss (or in my case argue about) films.

They’re often the only place you can find Canadian movies. Most local filmmakers can’t get their work onto Netlfix but they can often get it picked up at a video store. In fact, rental stores are often the only place you can go to find many movies that don’t have significant Hollywood weight behind them.

Netflix Canada has a selection of fewer than 5,000 movies and TV shows. Video Difference, Halifax’s flagship movie rental shop, has a collection of 70,000 movies and TV shows.

These shops are to movies what libraries are to the books that movies are based on. Instead of searching by title or following Netflix’s recommendations, movie stores allow you to explore a genre or the full filmography of a certain director all from the same shelf. Hell, even just aimlessly browsing through movie covers is fun.

If you only stream movies online, you’re limiting yourself to a very narrow cross-section of the film world. So I beg you, rent some movies. Even better, check out something by the talented Canadian filmmakers out there. If we lose rental stores we lose a huge part of what makes being a film-lover fun.