Canada’s largest queer film festival is hunting for venues after being told that the vast majority of Toronto commercial screens won’t be available this spring.
“This year Cineplex is taking over all the commercial theatres,” says Inside Out’s executive director Scott Ferguson. “There is pressure from the LA film companies not to give up the screen time. It is always going to be a problem and it’s forcing festivals to look outside commercial venues.”
Famous Players was bought out by Cineplex last year for $500 million, giving it a near monopoly on first-run movie theatres in the city.
Inside Out has been hosting screenings at Yorkville’s Cumberland theatre since 1997.
“Famous Players were always good supporters of the festival,” says Ferguson, noting that in 1999, Inside Out was the inaugural event at the opening of the Paramount theatre at John and Richmond at a time when every other screen belonged to Star Wars, which opened the same week.
But Ferguson says that things became more difficult in recent years when Alliance Atlantis bought into the theatre.
“We’d been in a situation where, for six to seven years, the Cumberland Cinema, which is an Alliance Atlantis and Famous Players theatre, had given us two screens for the full 10 days of the festival,” says Ferguson. “With Alliance Atlantis involved, we eventually decreased to one theatre for seven days.”
Negotiations between the festival and the Cumberland fell apart this year when Cineplex took control of the theatre.
“We’ve had to discontinue our relationship with [Inside Out],” says Pat Marshall, vice president of communications and investor relations for Cineplex Entertainment. “It’s tough for us to say no all the time. As much as we’d like to, we’re a for-profit company, we have to deliver results to our unit holders.”
The Cumberland theatre is now up for sale and is expected to be sold by May.
Inside Out is currently scheduled to run from May 18 to 28. Ferguson says there isn’t any flexibility in terms of timing because of where it fits in with the international gay film festival circuit. Organizers are now considering alternative venues including the University Of Toronto’s Isabel Bader Theatre, which was a venue for selected screenings last season.
“I’m 98 percent sure we have our two screens,” he says, naming the Isabel Bader and the Royal Ontario Museum. “They’re not commercial popcorn venues which is sad because a lot of our supporters like that, but they are right across the street from each other.”
In its early years the festival was highly nomadic. “Way back when, we were at the Euclid Theatre, the AGO [Art Gallery Of Ontario] and Cinecycle,” remembers Ferguson.
The Royal, a repertory theatre on College St, was also used one year by the festival but it wasn’t ideal because only some of the films could be shown there. “The distance between the theatres segregated the festival,” explains Ferguson. “Boys were at one theatre, girls were at another.”
Ferguson believes that finding screens in the shadow of big business will become more and more of an issue for independent film festivals. “The demand for commercial screen times means there’s less and less screens in the city,” says Ferguson.
“The government should be doing something about it, [like] saving one of the old theatres and turning it into a festival venue.”