Director: Morgan White
Writers: Christopher Field, Morgan White
Producers: Morgan White
MPAA Rating: NR
Running time: 99 min.
In today’s world of the digital downloading and streaming, the concept of a repertory cinema probably sounds quite weird. It is a cinema, in which the sole purpose is to play old films that you have likely already seen. Most people would take a look at rep cinemas and ask “Why should I go this cinema and watch the film, when I could simply watch it at home?”
The Rep is a documentary that follows the first year of operations of the, now shut-down, Toronto Underground Cinema and the the problems that came with opening a single screen repertory cinema in this day and age. In addition to the story of the Toronto Underground Cinema, The Rep also examines the overall state of repertory cinemas, with interviews with representatives from theatres, such as Film Forum in NYC, The Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, and The New Beverly Cinema in L.A., as well as the opinions of celebrities, such as Kevin Smith, John Waters, Atom Egoyan, and George A. Romero.
The Toronto Underground Cinema was run by the trio of Alex Woodside (Programming Manager), Charlie Lawton (Public Relations Manager), and Nigel Agnew (Director of Operations). The three rented an old abandoned kung-fu theatre in the basement of a downtown Toronto condo complex and hoped to fulfil their dream of running a movie theatre. However, it turns out that running a repertory cinema in general is not an easy task, let alone a brand new one. While the cinema needed at least 80 patrons on a daily basis, the average attendance at the cinema was often in the single digits. As such, the theatre was losing a lot of money. One of the biggest events in the early days of the Toronto Underground was an appearance by Adam West in collaboration with Fan Expo Canada. However, the appearance was almost cancelled because of a miscommunication over what time West was supposed to appear. This was just one of the many growing pains the theatre experienced during its first year.
In between the action at the Toronto Underground, the film features interviews with representatives from various rep cinemas all over North America. While some cinemas, such as the Alamo Drafthouse, still thrive somewhat, the vast majority of repertory cinemas (and movie theatres in general) have been shutting down. There is quite an ironic scene in the film when a cinema is shown closing down with the best attendance it had in years.
Since The Rep concludes its story shorty after Toronto Underground’s first anniversary, the film doesn’t really go into the problems that continued to plague the Toronto Underground, which resulted in the cinema closing its doors last fall. After reaching its peak by hosting the 2011 Toronto After Dark Film Festival (footage of which is briefly shown in the film), the cinema started focusing more on special screenings and non-film events (such as geeky burlesque shows). The cinema closed for renovations last summer, never to reopen them again (save for one final film event).
In some ways, the fact that the closure of the Toronto Underground Cinema is not referenced in the film, other than onscreen text at the very end, adds a real sense of irony to the film. The concluding interviews for the film seemed so full of hope, with the managers saying that running the cinema was the best thing to happen in their lives. However, like many movie theatres all over North America, the Toronto Underground Cinema is now just another casualty of the decline of repertory cinemas.
Overall, I thought that The Rep was a very interesting look behind the scenes at a repertory cinema that had high aspirations, but ultimately could not survive in today’s world. The film actually made me wish I supported the cinema more than I did, since the cinema was a year old before I decided to make my first trip, which BTW happened to be caught on camera for the film (I’m briefly seen waiting in line for the first anniversary screening). Ironically, at least here in Toronto, repertory screenings seem to be going mainstream, with Cineplex screening old films as part of their Front Row Centre Events. Of course, there is a certain charm about these old single-screen cinemas and it is a real shame that they are slowly disappearing.