A new documentary from FilmBuff The Rep follows the lives of three film geeks, Alex Woodside, Charlie Lawton and Nigel Agnew, as they struggle to open and operate a single-screen repertory cinema in Toronto called the Toronto Underground Cinema. The dedicated friends face an uphill battle to see their theater succeed in the face of strong competition from large chain theatres, local cinematheques and home video. Featuring interviews with filmmakers including Kevin Smith, John Waters, Atom Egoyan and George A. Romero, this engaging documentary is a love letter to the theaters and films of a bygone era, and the passionate filmgoers who show that the film experience is still alive.
I was really into this film, as I love movies and the idea that these three guys were trying to keep this theater alive, in the midst of many trials and obstacles, was just brilliant. As a filmgoer, I can appreciate the fact that no matter what the movie, the collective viewing with others who have like minds and interests is the icing on the cake. That is why movie going is still popular, even though it is slowly being swallowed up by on demand, cable television, DVD and other movie forms.
One person quoted in The Rep was one of the collective owners of the Red Vic Movie House in San Francisco Sam Sharkey, who described the movie viewing experience as those “collectively dreaming in the dark with each other.” The Red Vic had success for more than 30 years, while the Toronto Underground Cinema barely had a two-year run. Times were tough for Alex, Charlie and Nigel, as they some nights only saw three or four people come to the theater to watch many second-run, independent films. The documentary showed repertory cinemas across the country, and one in particular the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles, which Quentin Tarantino saved from its demise by purchasing the building upon which it was situated.
When the going got tough at the Toronto Underground Cinema, the owners turned to social media in a campaign to tout their Good Canadian Cinema Week, which considering they were in Toronto should have been successful. But this actually bombed, even though followers had indicated that they would attend. Eventually, with not much revenue coming in from ticket sales, things really dried up and word got out that the owners didn’t have enough money to pay all their vendors. This led to them not being able to rent movies and supplies needed to effectively run a theater, coupled with the fact that they couldn’t have any permanent outside signage.
At the one-year anniversary, the movie featured a free double-bill with Clue and Jurassic Park, which saw the movie theater nearly filled. But this luck wouldn’t last, and shortly thereafter the theater closed.
It was said in the documentary that movie houses should be less concerned about making money and more concerned about the community of folks that is brought together while audience members watch the movie.
According to The Rep press materials, “As the shared experience of seeing movies in the theater is rapidly being replaced with streaming titles from tablets, screens and phones, the repertory’s relevance is slowly fading. The Rep reveals the battle between technology and nostalgia and the necessity for both. As Clerks director Kevin Smith describes it, the theater is like a ‘flux capacitor,’ allowing viewers to ‘take a trip back in time.’ More than anything else, the film celebrates the theater’s true purpose: to celebrate the power of film.”
I enjoyed watching The Rep, and I was encouraged to see that there are smaller movie houses—beautiful, old buildings—throughout the country that cater to the filmgoer who is into classic or less popular titles and not at all impressed with the modern multiplex—filled with high-tech projection, high-priced snacks and simply high-admission with so-called premium VIP seating. And I would think that the late, great film critic Roger Ebert would give the three guys “two thumbs up” for their selfless, all-consuming efforts.
The Rep is available on VOD. For more information, visit www.filmbuff.com