Making Waves at the Sail-In Cinema
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Making Waves at the Sail-In Cinema

Toronto's first sail-in cinema is on this weekend. Kind of like a drive-in, but with water.

Boats on the water for the Friday night screening of Jaws.

Sail-In Cinema
Sugar Beach (25 Dockside Drive)
August 18–20; final screening, Finding Nemo, tonight at dusk (about 8:45 p.m.)
FREE; tickets are required for non-boaters, however, and they’re SOLD OUT

Toronto loves its movies. Toronto especially loves its free, outdoor movies. Toronto is also beginning to love its waterfront. Bringing these things together seems a timely and natural yet also ingenious move. But no one in Canada had done it before Thursday night, when Toronto Port Authority premiered the Sail-In Cinema three-day film festival to landlubbers and seafarers alike.
Immediately in front of the Corus building, nestled in between the umbrellas of Sugar Beach to their right and the Against the Grain pub to their left, between 700 and 900 viewers set up chairs and blankets in front of a 28-foot screen, bundled up as the sun set among the skyscrapers behind them. Feet set firmly on solid ground, they faced outwards toward the water, spotted with the more deeply anchored viewers—more then 20 boats of all types, from fishing to sail, gathered around the screen as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, starring Kirk Douglas and a giant sea monster, began.

The inaugural screening kickstarted Toronto’s (and North America’s) first-ever floating movie theatre, part of the celebrations for the TPA’s hundredth anniversary this year. Fittingly, the cinema’s organizers chose films with a nautical theme: along with 20,000 Leagues, last night Spielberg’s Jaws (for masochistic thrill-seekers) was on tap and tonight Pixar’s Finding Nemo (for buoyant and budding families) will screen.
As we sat on the press boat with TPA president and CEO Geoffrey Wilson, we felt the gentle rise and fall of the waves and the easy Lake Ontario breeze for the first time in ages (ferries don’t count). Planes flew overhead to and from the Island airport, with only a slight disturbance to the action on the biggish inflatable screen, and we were reminded how frequently Torontonians come down to the waterfront only to end up back in the sky, not on the water. As a city, the water still remains a relatively unexplored element. Though that’s changing now, with Sugar Beach open for its first full summer, Sherbourne Common in full swing, and the Pan Am Athlete’s Village on its way to the West Don Lands.
“This whole area is up and coming. Look what’s happening! We just needed to find a way to get people down here. That’s what we’re hoping to do—engage both the landside community and the water community,” Wilson said. And engaged they have been. With all the remaining ticketed spots on dry land already spoken for, the only spaces left are for those willing to sit in the Sugar Beach sand and listen to the movies, or, of course, find a spot in the open water. As the boats filed in, smaller vessels in front, high masts in the back, there was still plenty of room to float around after anchors dropped.
But therein lies the rub. Admittedly, the experience of watching a movie on the high seas is pretty cool. When the monster in the opening scene of 20,000 Leagues actually looks like it’s swimming from the lake onto the screen, yeah, that’s a feeling you can’t get at the AMC, and not even at the Lightbox (and it’s also why there’s no way in hell we’re watching Jaws tonight). Heck, we were even visited by a floating concession stand manned by five young girls and their mother, selling $4 bags of popcorn and $2 pop cans for the World Wildlife Fund. However, how many Torontonians actually own a boat, and, if they do, how many keep their boat in the city? “The sailing community is very tight-knit,” Wilson says. Of course it would be, when the same handful are out on the water each weekend. The TPA says an option for the landlocked is to charter a boat with Toronto Harbour Tours, which, if you’ve got 22 other friends, can be pretty affordable.
Hopefully in the future, and we really think there is a future for the Sail-In Cinema, public boats will be up for reservation. Because while outdoor movies are always an evening well spent, the real appeal of this event is on the water. So in the meantime, if you’re without a proper watercraft—get creative. Turn your inflatable couch into a dinghy, or your dining table into a raft, or your hamper into a canoe. Either way, the Sail-In Cinema isn’t only a unique night at the movies, it’s a great opportunity to get a rarely seen view of the city at night. You know, the one you didn’t quite appreciate enough when you were blackout drunk at your prom’s booze cruise after-party.
Photos by Miles Storey/Torontoist.