In our efforts to better understand the landscape of film in the city and Canada as a whole, we caught up with Colin Geddes and Katarina Gligorijevic of The Royal cinema to talk about the challenges of film programming for independent theatres. Since joining as Co-Programming Directors, Geddes and Gligorijevic have endeavoured to introduce innovative film programmes to the theatre, including the series Kid Power!, Royal Retro and The Royal Mystery Movie Night. In addition to his Royal duties, Geddes has served as a long-time programmer for the Toronto International Film Festival, and Festival Director of ActionFest, a film festival dedicated to international action cinema. Gligorijevic is a writer and producer who has also worked with the traveling film festival Reel Canada. The two also run Ultra 8 Pictures, a Toronto-based film production, distribution and consulting company. Few couples have their fingers in as many pies in the Toronto film scene as these two. We spoke to Geddes and Gligorijevic as they were busy putting the final touches on The Royal’s final February schedule.
Toronto Film Scene: Is there a guiding principle or philosophy that drives your programming?
Colin Geddes: Kat and I took over programming duties at the Royal just over a year ago. We really went in to change the mandate of the theatre. We really wanted to bring the cinema back to being a fun, enjoyable place for both art house and pop culture movies.
Katarina Gligorijevic: And I think in terms of philosophy, we have to play second-run films. Films that have recently come out like Foxcatcher, Birdman and Interstellar—those are films that are great for us to get because we know we’ll get decent crowds for them […] But, one thing that we feel there’s a bit of a lack of in the city are theatres playing longer runs of old titles. We just want to be a place where you can see some of those older titles on the big screen for the first time, and we want to make it possible for people to make that work with their schedules. For example, this month we’re going to play Taxi Driver for a week.
TFS: How important are themed series or regularly recurring programmes for the cinema?
CG: Programming a cinema is the easiest thing—marketing and advertising, that’s what’s most challenging, especially when you’re an independent cinema. We are trying to enter into partnerships with other kinds of like-minded organizations for special screening series. For instance, we do a special screening series with Rue Morgue that spotlights either an old title or a newer horror genre movie, and that allows us to tap into their audience to come to the theatre and see what we’re doing.
TFS: We think of summer as movie season, but how important is “awards season” to the prosperity of your theatre?
CG: Awards season is important. However, what audiences may not know is that Toronto has theatrical zones which were set up a long time ago by the powers that be in distribution and exhibition. We’re considered being part of the same zone as Scotiabank, Yonge and Dundas, and The Varsity.
KG: We’re now the only independent theatre that’s deemed to be in direct competition with huge downtown multiplexes. The Revue and The Fox are not part of the same zone, and The Bloor, it doesn’t really matter because they show documentaries. So, there are films we want to play, but we can’t get access to them until a long, long time after they’ve come out. So, awards season is great when there are films that we can get access to, because there are lots of Oscar nominees that people want to catch up on. But, if Scotiabank wanted to bring back Birdman, then we would definitely not be able to play it. In fact, there are a lot of titles that we ask for that we’re told, “maybe in a few weeks. It all has to do with these rules that are from another time, and probably should be changed, but it’s a complex process that nobody is eager to embark on.
CG: We’ve learned that we can’t rely on getting to top titles, because we know where we lie on the pecking order, as an independent cinema […] that’s why we’re investing in innovative programming.
TFS: What are some of the challenges in programming Canadian films?
KG: We want to support Canadian films from a programming perspective and we see a lot of Canadian films that we like, and want to show. However, as an exhibitor, we have to limit that to one a month, maximum.
TFS: Is there not an appetite for Canadian films in Toronto?
KG: The problem isn’t appetite, it’s access and awareness. It’s difficult to expand people’s desire to see something that they have zero awareness of. Toronto does have an appetite because there’s an industry here, and there are cinephiles here, and arts and culture, but… it’s like we’re speaking a foreign language, because people haven’t even heard of these films, so they don’t think to come to them. Something like I Put a Hit on You—that was a fun movie. And it wasn’t necessarily marketed as a Canadian film. People who saw the posters plastered on College Street wouldn’t know that it was Canadian. It is just a matter of whether they saw the posters at all.
TFS: What are you most excited for audiences to see in your February schedule?
KG: We’re really excited about the Kid Power! screening of The Peanut Butter Solution, speaking of Canadian content. It’s a very weird film and we’re going to be screening a 35mm print of that. Another thing is a new series we’ve started called The Royal Mystery Movie, where we get a local curator to pick a film that we don’t announce. We can’t tell you what it will be, but it will be Tuesday, February 17, and it will be really fun.
TFS: Do you have a film that you’ve always wanted a show, but haven’t yet been able to?
CG: Lots! A lot of times, theatrical rights in Canada are hard to track down or have expired, even for very recent films. For instance, Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love.
KG: We’re struggling to find the rights holder, which sounds crazy. The rights have lapsed, which doesn’t mean anyone in Canada can play it—it means nobody in Canada can play it.
TFS: What’s the one film you can programme and guarantee butts in seats?
CG: The Wizard of Oz.
KG: Everyone wants to see that movie, still.