The facade of the Gerrard Cinema near Gerrard Street East and Jones Avenue. Photo by Ecstatic Photography* from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.
Well, big news in movie-land, cinephiles. Earlier this week came the announcement that the treasured Bloor Cinema would be falling into the hands of Hot Docs. But anyone scrambling to scribble a eulogy for indie cinemas in Toronto better stay their hands, because the Gerrard Cinema will be re-opening their doors next week as the Projection Booth. The revival of the cinema was portended in April, over at OpenFile.
Located at 1035 Gerrard Street East, just west of Jones, the Gerrard Cinema was previously a centre of the neighbourhood’s South Asian community, erratically screening the latest offerings of Tamil cinema. Now, the building has been taken over by Jonathan Hlibka, CEO of local distribution outfit Studio Film Group, and Euan Mowat, proprietor of the adjacent Grinder coffee house. Grinder, it should be noted, is one of the businesses frequently cited in reports of the Gerrard/Jones strip’s alleged gentrification, along with the Great Burger Kitchen and the recently minted Starbucks. With the change (though subtle; there’s still plenty of Western Unions and Chinese bait shops in the neighbourhood) in demographics, Hlibka and Mowat thought a revitalization of the Gerrard was in order.
“We looked at the space and wanted to make it a place to put indie films and art house films into and kind of evolve it that way,” says Hlibka. He and Mowat began talking about the idea in December of last year and started working with people in the neighbourhood to discuss plans for programming. Two Gerrard/Jones locals were even on hand, sweeping up the theatre’s floor and setting up chairs in the tiny lobby area. While Hlibka was still working out the details regarding programming, he promised “extremely unique product, basically stuff you wouldn’t be able to find on BitTorrent.” Talking to him, though, the origin of the theatre seems to stem from his desire as a distributor to book independent films he handles. (This top-down strategy is kind of ironic, given that it recalls the monopolies between production, distribution, and exhibition strong-armed by major studios like Paramount when Hollywood’s now well-oiled machinations were still in the process of perfecting themselves.)
The cinema itself is fairly spartan. There are around 300 seats (putting it at about half the size of the Bloor or the Underground) and, frankly, they could use a good steam-cleaning. Then again, the painted wood and concrete floors and shabby carpets only add to the cinema’s, well, let’s call it “rustic charm.” Mowat has taken control of the theatre’s concessions, liberating a discarded popcorn machine from an old Jumbo Video and placing it prominently on a counter to the right of the building’s entrance.
“We can screen basically whatever we want here,” says Hlibka, noting that he’s trying to get in 35mm prints, being as he’s aware of how “essential the cinephile is to the independent cinema.” What’s more, with video rental chains like Jumbo and Blockbuster going under, the Projection Booth plans to charge a mere $5.99 for screenings, in order to keep their prices more in line with the cost of renting a video than going to see a film at the downtown multiplex.
Again, details of next week’s screenings are still being worked out. So stay tuned to the Projection Booth’s Facebook page for more details, as they emerge. In the meantime, two hips and a hooray for another theatre that manages to keep indie cinema in Toronto holding on for dear life.