The rapid closure of theatres in downtown Toronto is leaving film festivals scrambling to find screens.
This month’s Inside Out got lucky – not so with everyone else. And next year will be a disaster all around.
“I called us the wandering Jewish Film Festival,” says executive director Helen Zukerman. The fest had planned its schedule around the two screens at the Hyland, as they’ve done for the last three years.
It closed at the end of January.
Then they were offered the Plaza (in the mall at Yonge and Bloor). It closed in April.
Now they’ve taken refuge at a rep theatre. The Bloor only has one screen – but it’s available.
Other fests may soon tell similar tales.
Toronto hosts more than a dozen film festivals annually, including Sprockets (the children’s film festival), Images (for independent films, it closed this year’s fest with Art Dyke 2001), Hot Docs, and of course, the Inside Out Lesbian And Gay Film And Video Festival.
“It is quite difficult to get theatres in Toronto,” says Kathleen Mullen, Inside Out’s director of programming.
Executive director Scott Ferguson says that despite having Famous Players as a sponsor, getting two screens at the Cumberland required negotiation. The manager “only wanted to make one screen available.”
Then the big gun – Famous Players president John Bailey – stepped in and arranged for two screens.
Ferguson says it will be a priority to arrange for screens next year – right after this year’s fest ends, at the end of the month.
Their opening and closing is held at the Paramount, also a Famous Players business.
Famous Players has closed two cinemas this year. Cineplex Odeon staff did not return calls, but they’ve closed at least 14 screens in the past 12 months.
Of course, it’s not all bad news. The current closings are having little effect on the Images Festival of Independent Film and Video, according to Images artistic director Chris Gehman says that the closing of the old Euclid many years ago affected Images more than anything.
“This city desperately needs a non-profit theatre space that’s available for fests like us, Inside Out and Desh Pardesh,” says Gehman.
The Toronto International Film Festival might scramble for seats if Yonge Street’s Uptown closes.
Both the Uptown and the Eglinton are not wheelchair accessible, and Joanne Fraser, VP of Corporate Affairs for Famous Players, says the company is awaiting a human rights tribunal decision before deciding what to do with the spaces. Both cinemas are more than 50 years old, and Fraser says they’ll cost too much to renovate.
Representatives from TIFF were unable to comment on how the closing of the Uptown, which seats 2,000 people, would affect them, as they were all in Cannes.
City councilor Kyle Rae says he is working with developers to see if they can incorporate a theatre into their plans, but it’s just a germ of an idea right now. Ideally, the theatre would be the permanent home of TIFF, but as it only runs for 10 days, other festivals would have access to it during the rest of the year.
In addition, four screens have closed at Yonge and St Clair – what used to be the Hollywood is about to become a fitness centre and a donut shop.
LESBIAN AND GAY
FILM AND VIDEO FESTIVAL.
$9 for most screenings.
Thu, May 17-27.
(416) 925-XTRA xt 2229.