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Capitol Theatre Manuka won’t reopen post-COVID

While COVID-19 restrictions are starting to ease, we’ve learned that one Inner South icon won’t be reopening post-pandemic: Capitol Theatre Manuka.

Canberra’s first purpose-built cinema, Capitol Theatre opened in 1927 with more than 1,000 seats, according to the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA).

The Capitol was managed by Franklyn Barrett, a well-known former film producer, director and cinematographer.

The original building was demolished in 1980 and the existing Capitol Theatre Manuka (also known as Event Cinemas Manuka) has stood on the site since the rebuild.

Just this week, the operators of Capitol Cinema Manuka announced it would not be reopening after having closed in March due to the COVID-19 restrictions.

What are your memories of the cinemas? Please share in the comments or email us via [email protected]

Here are a few moments from our highlight reels.

1980s neo-classic style white Capitol Theatre building in Manuka
The original Capitol Theatre building was demolished in 1980 and Event Cinemas Manuka has stood on the site since the rebuild. Photo: Kerrie Brewer.

Julie Samaras, CW Editor: Over the years, I’ve attended numerous media screenings and film festivals at Capitol, a highlight being writer/director Ben Elton’s Q&A session at a premiere of his charming 2017 Aussie rom-com, Three Summers. It was heart-warming to see him happily and patiently posing for selfies with fans afterwards, me included.

Soon after moving to Canberra in 1985, a friend and I saw the newly released blockbuster Back to The Future at Capitol. We had front row seats in the packed-out big cinema – a wild ride! – followed by coffee and cake across the road at Caph’s.

In 2008, a friend bought five tickets to a sold-out gala screening of French film legend Catherine Deneuve’s newly released film, After Him (Apres Lui), which the star attended in the flesh. One of our group had cancelled last minute due to ill health so I went outside to on-sell the ticket in the hope that neither friend would be out of pocket. One very excited fan happily parted with the cash (around $15) for the ticket and I returned inside. A few minutes later, the beautiful Ms Deneuve glided down the red carpet into the cinema. To my utter delight, swanning along right behind her was the woman who had just purchased our spare ticket, smiling like the cat that got the cream.

More recently, I saw Guy Ritchie’s riotous action comedy, The Gentlemen (MA15+) on a hot summer’s night in January, oblivious that it was the last film I would see there.

Denholm Samaras, CW Arts Editor: I’ve been to many screenings at Capitol over the years, seeing everything from blockbusters through to low-budget Australian films, quite often in an empty theatre given I started attending in the early 2010s. It’s for that reason my favourite memory at Capitol was attending a CW sponsored preview screening of Now You See Me back in 2013. While the movie itself was awful in so many ways, being in a heaving cinema and enjoying the reception in a full lobby after gave me a taste of what the Manuka landmark would have been like back in its halcyon days.

Monica Schwetz, CW Advertising Executive: As a former Queanbeyan resident, Capitol was the go-to after the Capital and the Triumph closed in town. I’ll always remember having to walk up all those stairs to the theatre at the very top. Good exercise.

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