When the Blue Ice Group announced, last summer, that it had purchased the Bloor Cinema to act as a permanent home and screening space for the annual documentary film festival Hot Docs, spokespeople for the project predicted that the planned renovations would be completed by the end of October. Then November came and went, and, likewise, December and January. All the while, the beloved neighbourhood institution, which has operated as a theatre for about a century, was closed.
Today, finally, reporters were allowed behind the blue tarp currently sealing the entranceway to see what the contractors had wrought upon the theatre’s interior.
Up in the balcony, brothers Carm and Paul Bordonaro—whose family had operated the Bloor Cinema since 1999, and in 2010 purchased it to protect it from development before selling it to Blue Ice—stood together, taking in the view. “They maintained it and enhanced it,” said Carm. “They did way more work than they expected, I think.” The delays are partly attributable to unexpected discoveries during the demolition, some pleasant (an old orchestra pit from the venue’s vaudeville days!), some not so much (asbestos!).
Carm is right about the reno. It looks good. Anyone who was particularly attached to the old setup won’t be too disoriented by the changes; they’re mostly subtle and mostly for the better. The old concession stand is completely gone, replaced by a pane of glass that gives onto the screening area, to mimic the central entryway the theatre used to have in its early days of operation, before one or another of its owners walled it over.
The walls and fittings in the screening area, which had been covered with cracking paint, are now gold and burgundy. The seats at ground level have higher backs than they used to, and are covered with pinstriped fabric instead of the former red velour. Up in the balcony, the seats have been reupholstered, but are still the same underneath as they were before the reno. So yes, the loveseats are still there.
Up in the booth, there’s a new digital projector (a Christie), and a new sound system will replace the old, eardrum-shattering one.
Hot Docs has already scheduled screenings for March and April. The programming will be mostly documentary with occasional breaks for repertory movies, the old Bloor Cinema’s stock in trade. Highlights will include Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey (a doc about Kevin Clash, whose occupation is probably evident from the title) and a retrospective of the work of Roger Corman, the infamous American B-movie director, to coincide with screenings of Corman’s World: The Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, a documentary about him.
Featuring documentaries nearly to the exclusion of all else is a programming format unlike anything done at other Toronto theatres. Hot Docs Executive Director Chris McDonald anticipates some tweaks. “We’re going to learn a lot after the first six weeks, five-and-a-half weeks of operation, and we’ll adjust ourselves accordingly,” he said.
The plan is for the renovated theatre to have its grand opening as the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema on March 14, and Hot Docs wouldn’t be inviting the media in if they didn’t expect to make that deadline. But even as the press circulated through the not-quite-finished space, the guys in hardhats were there, working away and accidentally setting off fire alarms.
Even if the dust has barely had time to settle by opening day, there are few filmgoers in Toronto who won’t relish the chance to catch a film at the Bloor, after its unexpectedly long hiatus.