Toronto cinèphiles love the Bloor Cinema. It's been the home of classic films, independent cinema, festival screenings, student films, second run features, foreign titles, cult favourites, genre movies and the occasional refuge for the experimental and the arty. The Bloor is as much home in the Annex neighbourhood as is Honest Ed's and just as unpretentious. It is the diametrical opposite of TIFF Bell Lightbox with the exception that both institutes celebrate great movies. (note: Toronto Underground Cinema is likely closer to being the diametrical opposite of TIFF Bell Lightbox just so long as we don't push the comparison to include the few 'adult-only' movies houses left scattered throughout the city - I'm talking about you, Metro.)
A few years back The Bloor broke away from the festival group which included the Royal, Revue, Kingsway, and Fox. It was a sad parting for festival group members who now had to scratch off the Bloor from their paper thin wallet sized membership cards. But the Bloor continued to thrive with less second-run film screenings in order to offer more exclusive independent cinema. Soon we became comfortable toting around two membership cards, one for the festival cinemas and one for the Bloor.
But the economy was not kind to repertoire movie houses. We watched helplessly as one theater after another began to close their doors. Some, like the Revue, were rescued by concerned neighbours to become community run non-profit theaters. There has got to be a documentary in that story.
When it came time for the Bloor to consider its options, we feared the worse. Close it's doors and erect a condo? Yikes.
We're all for inner-city development but a condominium in the heart of the Annex, so close to the Broadway lit lights of Honest Ed's, seemed not only wrong, but sacrilegious.
Along came Hoc Docs Blue Ice Group, who I suppose were scouting for a new home. I confess that I am foggy as to just exactly who the players are and I am unclear as to who approached who but the Bloor was saved, renovated and became the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.
(Note: I attempted to call the number The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema provided to clear up these questions - but their mailbox was full. Frustrating, but certainly a good sign for the investors.)
The changes within the cinema are both familiar (same domed light fixtures along the walls, same small washrooms and balcony options, and same foyer entering the theater) and dramatic (a glass partition dividing concession booth and movie screen, comfortable seating, and new fixtures in the washrooms)
The big change, as you might suspect from the crowning title, The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, is that the theater now features documentary films. But if a theater can't keep afloat showing second run features, can it draw enough people in for documentaries?
Programmer Robin Smith (President of KinoSmith Inc ) has no doubt. "I believe this is almost an essential service for Toronto," says Smith. Smith cites the success of the Hot Docs festival and the increasing amount of docs showing up on other media outlets such as iTunes and Netflix. "Documentaries have always been a strong genre for Toronto movie lovers. Audiences are more hungry for docs then ever and developed a large appetite for real stories on real people, real events and real news."
Jane Jankovic, supervising producer and commissioning editor for TVO's documentary and drama unit confirms Smith's take, "Hot Docs is recognized as one of the leading documentary festivals in the world." says Jankovic, "Taking over the Bloor Cinema and dedicating it to documentary screenings is a clear indication of the relevance and growing popularity of documentaries today."
It appears that more and more people are able to reference a documentary film: Roger & Me (1989), Undefeated (2011), Manufactured Landscapes (2006), The Corporation (2003), The Times of Harvey Milk (1984), Grey Gardens (1975) have become familiar titles to all kinds of movie-goers.
Certainly TVO who has long been leading the way in airing documentary cinema in Ontario, has seen great success with Doc Studio.
But even this theater dedicated to honouring and showcasing documentary films leave the door open for other options. Example, the documentary featured tonight (March 19th) at 6:30 pm is Corman's World: The Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel. It is followed by a 9pm screening of Roger Corman's The Pit and The Pendulum (1961). Okay, Pit and Pendulum is not a doc, but a fitting companion to Corman's World, which is a doc.
Regardless. It's enough to get me out to the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema tonight.