2012 Hero: The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
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2012 Hero: The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Nominated for: weathering its transition into a rare home for first-run documentaries.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains: the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past 12 months. From December 10 to 19, we’ll unveil the nominees, grouped by category. Vote for your favourites from each batch, every single day! On December 19 and 20 the winners from each category go head-to-head in the final round of voting, and on December 21, we will reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

It was an up-and-down year for Toronto’s rep cinemas. For every success as heartening as Nadia Sandhu and Jonathan Hibhka’s improbable makeover of the seedy Metro Theatre into the arthouse refuge Projection Booth Metro, there was a glum story like the closing of the Toronto Underground Cinema thanks to ongoing landlord troubles.

With those mixed fortunes in mind, it’s been a rare treat to see the Bloor Cinema emerge from its own troubles into one of the city’s most promising and idiosyncratic rep houses. Closed in the summer of 2011 for what was then cryptically described as “an undetermined length of time,” the theatre returned in renovated form this March, and was rechristened the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, in honour of its new management—and just in time to serve as that festival’s flagship venue.

Despite the behemoth, 700-seat cinema’s long history of accommodating Hot Docs and popular screening series like Doc Soup, a nonfiction mandate initially seemed like an odd fit. This was the place that perennially packed the house with niche entertainments like The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension and Janus’ limited theatrical run of House. It didn’t help matters that there was little precedent, either within or outside of the rep community, for a first-run documentary cinema. (Hot Docs director Chris McDonald told the Globe and Mail that he could think of just one: a 14-seater in Zagreb, Croatia.)

But the newly reborn Bloor has proven itself a malleable venue, responsive to audience needs—and not just because it’s one of the only cinemas in town that happens to be fully licensed. Programmer Robin Smith has put together an enviable slate of film series, granting a measure of coherence to a genre that spans a virtually infinite number of subjects. We’ve been especially fond of Rock Docs, which has welcomed both new concert films like Shut Up and Play the Hits and old standbys like The Song Remains the Same.

In addition to high-profile new releases (Nishua Pahuja’s The World Before Her and Ken Burns’ upcoming Central Park Five), the revamped cinema has also stretched beyond its documentary focus. It’s made room for the sorts of films that made the Bloor a favourite of genre connoisseurs, resuming its mantel as the home of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. And what better way could there be to ring in the new year than the forthcoming screening of The Big Lebowski, complete with indoor bowling? The old Bloor Cinema will be missed, of course, but we’ll happily join the Dude in drinking a White Russian to its new incarnation.

See the other nominees in the Culture and Sports category:

Alex Anthopoulos

Building the Jays into a team to be reckoned with.
  Academy of the Impossible

Making education accessible, and breaking down barriers.
  Sarah Polley

Staying true to an uncompromising path.

G 98.7

Making commercial radio worth listening to again.
  The Beguiling

Supporting independent graphic arts for 25 years.

Cast Your Ballot