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 bellwether of rep cinemas: Bloor Cinema.
Photo by Smaku.
Audiences at the Bloor Cinema have fallen in love with zombies; a tranny from Transsexual, Transylvania; and, bombshell burlesque babes. But are they ready for the next wave of alternative entertainment: Barbra Streisand?
Two weeks ago, the Bloor hosted “The Naughty Naughty Revue,” a vaudeville and burlesque show that featured comedy, music, film, and a tribute to Babs. (Performer Sauci Calla Hora told Eye Weekly that she related to Streisand’s awkwardness.) The event celebrated the song-and-dance roots of the building, which opened in 1905. With burlesque shows rising in popularity around Toronto, Carm Bordonaro, who runs the Bloor with his brother Paul, says that having more vaudeville shows is a possibility—the show would join the popular Rocky Horror Picture Show as monthly special events in the Bloor’s schedule.
While second-run and classic films still fill the majority of the Bloor’s programming, special events and screenings such as the Toronto premiere of Rape of Europa, a documentary about the recovery of stolen art from Hitler and the Nazi party, are more popular and better attended. “The mainstream stuff doesn’t bring people in like it used to,” says Bordonaro.
In fact, the Bloor is financially sustained by the revenue from special events and cinema rentals, which helps offset the declining popularity of second-run films. “Without rental revenue, we’d go bankrupt,” says Bordonaro. Festivals like Hot Docs, the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, and the After Dark Film Festival call the Bloor home. Bordonaro praises the diverse programming of the festivals: “The organizers scour the world to find great films that otherwise wouldn’t be seen; they promote them; and, they bring in new customers.” (One festival that doesn’t play the Bloor—or any rep theatre—is the Toronto International Film Festival, which confuses Bordonaro: “Why build a condominium with a theatre downstairs, but not include the great rep theatres available?”)
Since the roof collapsed during a screening of The Corporation, the Bloor has been battling rumours of financial trouble and possible closure. Bordonaro is happy to clear the air: “The Bloor had a record year for sales in 2007. Sales were up 10% over 2006. Attendance was high. We’re not in trouble and we’re not closing.” He also dispels fears that the Bloor’s prime location would lead to large rent increases. “Negotiations are years away,” as the Bloor is locked into a lease for at least another ten years. “We’re not going anywhere.” Bordonaro went on to explain part of the lease: “We don’t own the building, but have the first right to renew our lease. If the Firestones choose to sell the building, we have the first right to purchase it.”
On the other end of the rumours, is there a chance the Bloor might expand? An emphatic no. “Part of the problem with Festival Cinemas was that it opened too many screens, which doesn’t make sense for rep theatres. There wasn’t a market for it.” Instead, the focus will be on repairs, such as new speakers installed last year, and enhancements, like transforming the lower ceiling under the balcony into a planetarium. “The Bloor is unique,” says Bordonaro.
Enough so for a heritage designation? Bordonaro says there are no plans at the moment: “I love the idea, but I’m sure my landlord would hate it.” He pauses, then adds: “Who knows? Maybe in the future.” If anything, he’ll prove Barbra wrong when she sings: “We’ll live for the future/We’ll learn from the past/No matter how hard we try/Some good things never last.”
Photo of Bloor Cinema exterior by sniderscion from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.