When Atom Egoyan gave up creative control of Camera Bar to the adjoining Stephen Bulger Gallery in 2006, many wondered whether the small 50-seat theatre had a future amongst the other repertory cinemas the city has to offer. It has operated in a limited capacity by offering free films on Saturday afternoons and through being rented out for private events, but the folks at The Seventh Art and MDFF are hoping that a new monthly screening series will help transform the theatre into something more in keeping with Egoyan’s original vision.
“When Camera Bar first opened back in 2004, I was in my first year at Ryerson’s Image Arts program and remember being excited about it,” says MDFF co-founder Kazik Radwanski. “Small films like Patrice Chéreau’s Son frère were getting week-long runs there, and it seemed like it was adding a very innovative dynamic to the local film scene. We want to use the space in that way and bring films to Toronto that for whatever reason aren’t playing here, but absolutely should be.”
The theatre itself required only a few minor upgrades—it was its reputation that appeared to be most in need of repair. “It did seem like its place in the city may have drifted out of the minds of a lot of cinemagoers,” says Seventh Art producer Christopher Heron. “Because of the bar, there was also the chance to approach it as something like Nitehawk, in Brooklyn, where you can have a drink and watch something that won’t be playing at other cinemas.”
The partnership between The Seventh Art and MDFF is one that unites two groups already well known for organizing screenings in the city: the former brings directors like Paul Schrader and Whit Stillman to town for its Live Directors series, and the latter hosts events in Kensington Market at Double Double Land. Born out of friendship, the collaboration is rooted in mutual admiration.
“The films they programmed were ones we wanted to see as cinephiles, but were getting no other distribution in the city,” says Heron. “Our own Live Directors series is driven by an alternative, non-bureaucratic feel, so our philosophies definitely align.”
“We really like what The Seventh Art is doing,” says Radwanski. “To be honest, they were a big inspiration for us to start curating films at Double Double Land, so when they asked us to program a series at Camera Bar, it was a no-brainer.”
For their first event on April 16, they’ll be presenting Australian drama Hail. It’s a love story about a 50-year-old who is reunited with his former partner after being released from prison and is then forced to deal with demons from the past. Radwanski is especially excited about having its director Amiel Courtin-Wilson in attendance and hopes they’ll regularly be able to host directors along with their films. “We can’t promise always having directors from the opposite side of the globe attend, but having directors in person will happen fairly regularly. The intimate nature of the venue makes hosting international filmmakers even more unique and memorable.”
Their experiences hosting screenings in Toronto have helped both MDFF and The Seventh Art learn a thing or two about how important choosing the location can be—some nights at Double Double Land, for example, were so successful that paying customers had to be turned away because the venue was already at capacity. “Finding the right venue that reflects the audience is an important thing you realize as you try out different options,” says Heron. “It sets the tone for the screening and the series. Camera seemed like a perfect fit, and we’re happy to begin something special there.” For Radwanski and MDFF, there was wisdom to be gained from distributing their feature film Tower last year.
“I suppose what we felt was missing in Toronto was not a lack of Canadian films, but rather a lack of films from new voices in independent and international cinema,” he says. “For Toronto to have world-class cinema culture, we have to witness these films as they are being discovered, not years later when they are more established and marketable.”