Toronto Film Fests and the End of the "Nabes"
When someone says the words "Toronto" and "film festival", the natural assumption would be that they're referring to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), one of the world's most well-respected gatherings of movie folk. While the TIFF is definitely Toronto's biggest and best known, attracting films, celebrities and celebrity-watchers from around the world, it's actually only one of dozens of film festivals that take place in this city throughout the year.
You name it, we've got a film festival for it. There's In & Out (gay, lesbian bi and trans-gendered films), Hot Docs (documentaries), Reel Asian, Images (indie films), Sprockets (kids films), The Toronto Jewish Film Fest, Rendezvous with Madness (a film fest by and for people with mental illness or addiction), aluCine (Latin film fest), the Japanese Short Film Festival, ImagiNative (First Nations), plus twenty or thirty more.
This past weekend, I had tickets for the Planet in Focus film festival, which presents films about various environmental issues. Normally, I'd assume that the screenings were at one of the city's many repertory cinemas, but recently "many" has been reduced to one. Earlier this year, the Festival chain of old movie-house rep cinemas closed down its last three locations. As most of their business was based not on Toronto's many film festivals, but on attendance at second-run mainstream flicks, lack of business forced them to shut their doors.
For a city once populated in its heyday with neighbourhood cinemas or "nabes" every couple of blocks, the trend toward mega-plexes and quick turn-around on DVD releases has left us with only The Bloor Cinema showing indie, second-run and film fest selections. The closure has created a huge hole in the city's regular indie film schedule, leaving events like Kung-Fu Fridays and the Dion Conflict Archive showings homeless.
Locals scrambled over the summer to gather enough funds to save the Revue Cinema located on Roncesvalles Avenue in the west end, only to be told that they had been outbid on the site. There is still no word on whether the new owner intends to reopen the space as a cinema.
Meanwhile, film festival organizers have been forced to get creative, and festival attendees find themselves in theatres they may not have known existed. Festivals that are unable to book the Bloor cinema are now finding homes at various spaces at the University of Toronto (specifically the Isabel Bader Theatre and Innis Hall), and at the rather posh cinema in the basement of the Royal Ontario Museum. All of which can sometimes make the festival-going experience, without popcorn and a soda to keep people occupied, seem more like a work conference or a lecture than a night at the movies.