Running a repertory cinema in the time of Netflix and mega-luxe home theatre systems is certainly an uphill battle that most of us–no matter how deep our love for the moving image–would not be willing to take on.
When Charlie Lawton, Alex Woodside and Nigel Agnew decided to try their hand at running a rep theatre in 2010, that fight to get butts off their couches and into the seats at the Toronto Underground Cinema proved an insurmountable yet life-changing experience – one that Director Morgan White was documenting. The resulting film, The Rep , not only tails the Toronto Underground guys as they attempt to get their passion project off the ground, but also looks at how the once revered rep theatre experience is slowly dying out all across North America.
We talked to White about his film, and Toronto’s place in the rep cinema landscape.
Describe your film in 10 words or less:
A passionate look at the dying world of repertory cinema.
How did you decide to make a film about the Toronto Underground Cinema?
The film really started as a web-series. I approached the boys at The Underground with the idea of episodic shorts about events and day to day activities, but the story became more deep and emotional than could be contained in a web show, so I decided to make a film out of it.
Was the film always going to be about the state of rep cinemas overall or did that evolve over time?
It was really an evolution. The thesis of the film is “it’s hard to run a rep or indie cinema”, but originally I only saw that through The Underground. I decided to ask the question to other cinemas around North America, and their responses were similar, so I decided that to travel and interview them, thus expanding the film to a more North American look.
How do you think Toronto holds up rep cinema-wise to other cities you visited in the film?
Toronto seems to fare pretty well when it comes to rep cinemas, though we tend to use the word rep to define any independent cinema. Many major cities around North America have a couple of indie cinemas, but I think it’s the film culture of Toronto that makes it possible for so many indie cinemas to exist.
What’s the one message you’d like people to carry away from your film?
The biggest message of the film is that indie and repertory cinemas matter to the landscape of cinema, and they should be preserved and supported. They matter.
What was the best part of making the film?
I had the opportunity to meet a lot of great people making the film, many of whom I call friends. Meeting Alex, Nigel and Charlie, and getting to know them and call them friends, will always be the best part of this whole project.
The most frustrating?
Not surprisingly, the guys from The Underground! It’s very hard to spend most of your time with the same people, following them with the intention of getting to the deepest part of their personality. Sometimes that proved to be a challenge, and one that was both frustrating and exhilarating.
Favourite rep theatre in Toronto?
Aside from The Underground, the theatre that I frequented the most no longer exists. I was a big supporter of The Bloor, and saw many very important screenings there. While I find the idea of a documentary theatre amazing, and I love what they are doing, I still miss the old dilapidated Bloor where I saw so many films.
Favourite rep theatre in the world?
I really love The New Beverly in LA. I had always wanted to go there, and I’m so happy that The Rep required me to go. They are the truest form of rep cinema in North America, and the fact that Quentin Tarantino owns the cinema only helps to make it all the more cool!
What are you working on next?
I’ve got a couple of ideas floating around in the old noggin, but I’m really committed to getting The Rep out to cinemas. I’m offering the film free of charge to any indie cinema that wants to play it, and they keep 100% of the profits, and that offer has proven to be quite enticing to many cinemas. It’s become another full time job on top of my full time job, and I couldn’t be happier!
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