A few blocks east of Bloor and Bathurst, on the south side of Bloor St. and around Future Bakery, there’s an inconspicuous door facing Brunswick Ave. on the side of the building. Probably only studios or something upstairs, right? Not so on the second floor. Here is housed Toronto’s newest cinema, Brunswick Theatre.
Brunswick Theatre opened on February 11, 2007 at 296 Brunswick Ave. (yes, also the same address as the Green Room) in the space where the Poor Alex Theatre cabaret used to be. It’s run by the Brunswick Community Centre Co-operative, or rather, Scott Gilbert and Bre Walt. They say one of their main goals is to facilitate awareness and discussion about social justice, political, and environmental issues. How are they doing it? They’re screening films.
“[In a movie] you can get a lot of information into a short period of time, and it’s one step above just books because you get to see things up front,” Gilbert said.
He and Walt used to screen films at the Bloor Cinema, but the rental fees were high and it was too large of a space for cozy post-screening discussion, so they decided to leave. However, they wanted to host movie screenings so much that they went to the extent of opening their own theatre in the Annex. They renovated the whole space, installing washrooms, a screen, and about 100 seats.
Brunswick Theatre isn’t a show-movies-and-make-some-money-off-it deal; it’s a legitimate business. Gilbert and Walt purchase the rights to all the films the show, spending a maximum of $500 for per movie. Admission is $10, but you can buy a monthly membership for $40 or a 12 month membership at $20 a month. It may seem pricey, but the rent for the space is $4,100 a month, not including insurance and taxes. Besides, for every annual membership they sell, they will buy one per cent of the cinema’s energy use from a wind farm.
They don’t have signage yet, save a salt damaged sandwich board on the sidewalk, and it is Gilbert and Walt’s priority to save up for that. Keep in mind that they still have start-up loans to pay off. The movie theatre requires at least 30 patrons a day to stay open.
“Even if we’re not able to really make enough money off it ourselves, even if we’re only breaking even, we’ll continue to do it because we feel passionately about it,” said Gilbert.
The average individual can’t rent or buy the majority of the documentaries screened at Brunswick Theatre, but Gilbert and Walt are making them accessible to the public. March programming includes films such as Jesus Camp, Big Bucks, Big Pharma, and Iraq for Sale, and an accompanying open discussion after each film. If you miss a screening, you can always rent the DVD from the cinema (for free if you have a membership). They also sell books at $15 each, and fair trade and organic products, such as coffee, chocolate, and clothing. The clothing comes from the Fair Trade Clothing Co-op, where Gilbert is the wholesale sales manager.
Brunswick Theatre will host film and speaker nights starting this month. Their first speaker, Professor Michael Keefer of the University of Guelph, will deliver his lecture titled “Manufacturing Terror: 9/11 and the Toronto 17” on March 30 at 9:30 p.m. and March 31 at 7 p.m. When the space isn’t being used for things movie-related, Gilbert and Walt hope to use it as a community centre. One of their ideas is to have a free, volunteer-run tutoring program for elementary school students.
Until the movie theatre can sustain itself, that community initiative is on hold. Right now however, Gilbert and Walt are willing to let people use the theatre for rehearsals, conferences, meetings, classes, etc. if the events relate to social justice, political, and/or environmental concerns. TorontotheBetter is already taking advantage of the opportunity. They will screen The Toronto Rap Project at Brunswick Theatre on April 26 at 7:30 p.m. as part of their 2007 Movie Series.
“We’re doing this primarily for social change,” Gilbert said. Walt agreed. The post-film forum is a unique aspect of the screenings at Brunswick Theatre.
“We don’t want people to just come once, watch one film, be interested and go home,” she said. “We want people to become involved in issues.”