Rep Cinema Revival: Peer Revue
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Rep Cinema Revival: Peer Revue

Every day this week, Torontoist is exploring the future of repertory cinema in Toronto. We spoke to the theatre managers of four major rep cinemas to hear if rep cinema is dying, what it’s like to exist in a YouTube society, and what original programming has them most excited. Today, we look at the rebirth of the Revue Cinema and its focus on the Roncesvalles community.
Photo of Revue Cinema reopening by Mike Charbonneau.
Nobody makes a better entrance than Marilyn Monroe. It’s fitting, then, that the film legend’s most acclaimed work, Some Like It Hot, kicked off the reopening of a legend in its own right: the Revue Cinema. In October 2007, sixteen months after Festival Cinemas closed the theatre, the Revue Film Society, comprised of members from the Roncesvalles community, made good on their campaign name to Save the Revue. The Revue would now run as a non-profit—democratic and with a focus on the community—led by general manager Tim Bourgette. The choice of the inaugural film was given over to the people via an online poll, and the people wanted Marilyn.
The road to Marilyn crooning “I Wanna Be Loved By You” wasn’t without bumps though. The Revue Film Society had to raise $90,000 to cover working expenses for the reopening, which wasn’t a sure thing until local residents Danny and Letty Mullin purchased the Revue building to lease to the Society. The initial difficulties included administrative barriers from the large American distributors and issues with scheduling, but were solved by mid-December. “It is more difficult as a non-profit,” concedes Bourgette, “since there is personal liability, but we’ve fixed most of our problems. Our mandates for the Revue are diversity of programming and financial viability.”

To provide diverse programming, Bourgette and the Revue Film Society wanted both socially-conscious programming and works from within the community. “A lot of independent films from Toronto never get screened,” says Bourgette. The Revue Film Society welcomes programming suggestions from the community and just started Drop Your Shorts, an opportunity for filmmakers to show their short films to the public, which Bourgette describes as open and democratic. The first screening occurred on January 30, 2007 and was attended by over 70 people. (It was such a success that a second Drop Your Shorts will occur on March 6.) Bourgette is also excited about Dion Conflict presenting the film Only One New York, a film from 1964 with eerie prescience to 9/11. (Sample dialogue: “How beautiful these shining towers are. It occurs to me that people who expect a bomb to fall don’t build their walls of glass. A city of glass is like a declaration of peace.”) The programming at the Revue will still include standard Hollywood films, especially movies for children, which are popular and help pay the bills. (The cost of covering rent and utilities for the Revue alone is $11,000.)
2008_02_19_Rep_Cinema_2.jpgThe second mandate, financial viability, meant changing the business model to a non-profit, which Bourgette believes is the future for rep cinemas. The Revue has taken advantage of its non-profit model to have sponsored screenings, such as those by local MP Peggy Nash. In December, Nash commemorated the National Day of Remembrance and Action by paying for a screening of Killer’s Paradise, a documentary about the blind eye turned to the murder of thousands of women in Guatemala. The Revue also hopes to expand the traditional role of a rep cinema by branching out into fundraising and educational programs.
A large part of the Revue’s fiscal sustainability will depend on the involvement of the community. Local merchants aided the Save the Revue campaign, such as the donation of one day’s worth of profits to the Revue by Sue’s Thai Food during the fundraising drive. The Revue website lists over 50 businesses that supported the return of the Revue financially or through materials and supplies. The symbiosis between theatre and community businesses makes sense, says Charlie Keil, program director of Film Studies at the University of Toronto. “Restaurants benefit inordinately as a theatre helps define a community and draws people in. There’s nothing like a theatre to define a block because of its front space: the physical presence of a theatre announces itself in an assertive way and makes people more receptive to the community than a store does.” Bourgette agrees: “The surrounding restaurants and stores were really happy to see the Revue back.”
The Revue is also reaching out to its virtual community, and has increased its online presence. The website has been re-designed twice in an effort to provide easy access to special events and screening times. A Facebook group has also been set up that to date has over 700 members. Members can speak to the staff at the Revue and get answers to their burning questions. Also in the works may be a forum for people to discuss the films they’ve seen at the Revue—all in an effort to keep people returning to the theatre.
Bourgette says attendance and memberships have been rising, and is relieved that interest didn’t flop after the initial month. (It takes an attendance of 100 people on a single night to make that night a success.) As long as each of those Facebook friends brings a date (or two) and visits the theatre twice a month, the Revue won’t have to worry like Marilyn about getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop.
Photo of the old Revue marquee by 416style.