This is the crux: How do you get people into theatres now that they can download a film or
buy it for five bucks at the grocery store or view it on Netflix?
—Alison Gillmor, CBC reviewer
Here's the thing: Everybody says they love rep cinemas, those small indie theatres that show
foreign films, classic movies, art-house fare, cult genre pictures - all the stuff you can't find at the mall multiplex. But these days, love isn't always enough.
That's the painful reality at the heart of this dogged little Canadian doc. First-time Toronto filmmaker Morgan White follows Alex, Nigel and Charlie, three twenty-something film nerds with almost no business experience, as they try to resurrect a single-screen repertory cinema in the basement of a downtown T.O. condo building.
Popcorn, a rep theatre staple (Nicole Pulsinelli)
In some ways, it's a heartbreaking story. But since this film is showing at our very own Cinematheque, which recently has been fighting the same fight against declining audiences, it's an important one.The Rep
starts with lots of pep, as The Toronto Underground Cinema opens to positive press coverage and a nearly full house. Then the three friends settle down to regular programming of B-movies and 1980s genre flicks, only to find that their movies are playing to (maybe) 11 people a night.
The guys bring in Adam West to make an appearance after a screening of the 1966 Batman
movie. (Love that foam-rubber shark!) West answers questions, does the Batusi, and the theatre actually makes some money for once.
But that's a temporary bright spot. White interviews stressed-out rep-house programmers from across North America, including former Winnipegger Kier-la Janisse, who is now based in Montreal. Running a cinema might sound like a creative job, one commentator says, but it's actually "entrepreneurialism at its most abject." Yikes.
White also interviews filmmakers like Kevin Smith (Clerks
), John Waters (Pink Flamingos
) and George Romero (Night of the Living Dead
). They love rep houses, of course. But Romero sheepishly admits that, like many people with a good home theatre, he basically has his own private rep cinema in his house.
35mm Film Reel (Nicole Pulsinelli)
This is the crux: How do you get people into theatres now that they can download a film or buy it for five bucks at the grocery store or view it on Netflix? Increasingly, you can't. The film's ending is sad, but also poetic, as film scholars, filmmakers and film fans speak about what they love about old movie houses.
And yes, there is some talk about the integrity of 35 mm prints in the face of the digital revolution, about the beauty of the big screen and big sound. But what really comes out, repeatedly and powerfully, is the importance of film-viewing as a communal experience - "in a theatre filled with people dreaming in the dark, with each other."The Rep
makes some rookie mistakes. It could use a tighter edit, as well as more time with its articulate interview subjects and less time with its slightly depressive trio of main characters.
But you might want to go see it - in the theatre! -- as an act of faith in the communal film experience. And as an act of support for our own dear Cinematheque.
The Rep runs at Cinematheque April 26 - 28.
Related:Film follows John K. Samson and his petition to the Hockey Hall of Fame