Directed by Morgan White
Playing April 26-27 at 7 p.m. and April 28 at 2 p.m.
at Winnipeg Cinematheque (100 Arthur Street)
Morgan White’s directorial debut is a documentary love letter to repertory cinemas (grandiose, one-screen movie houses that specialize in oldies) across North America. Spending a little over a year with the Toronto Underground Cinema, a theatre that was literally underneath a condo complex with no marquee, White watches three friends live out their dreams of screening the classics, usually to no more than eight or nine people.
Though it spends the bulk of its 96 minutes with this trio of relatively uninteresting, seemingly sedated cinephiles, the film does jump around to Los Angeles, Montreal, Texas, and San Francisco, talking to critics and cinema owners (who are almost always placed in theatre seats–get creative, yo). Unfortunately, almost all of these interview subjects are more engaging than the struggling entrepreneurs White chooses to focus on, while interviews with such filmmakers as John Waters, Bruce McDonald, Atom Egoyan, Kevin Smith, George A. Romero, and Colin Brunton barely consume five minutes of the flick. One projectionist even had a collection of hundreds of 35 mm prints–showcasing his story for more than a minute might have been a good call. The focus also tends to linger on petty arguments that one wouldn’t normally share outside of their immediate group of friends, leaving the viewer to assume that either the director was friends with his subjects (and thought everything they did was amazing) or was simply inexperienced.
Though the argument can be made that the relationships between the theatre managers, their audience, the distributors to whom they owe big money to, and their landlord is a metaphor for the larger problem with theatre-goers exercising their right to apathy when it comes to seeing films, it doesn’t quite stand up.
All that aside, it is an incredibly engaging story about the battle to get people out of their homes and into the seats to experience something. The cinema does breathe life into a film, and these old movie houses are something special. It’s possible that a more solid, focused film (perhaps equally split between more movie houses) would have been a more effectively told story; it is important to follow one from its opening day, focusing on the struggles of getting people in the door (its only successes seem to be free screenings and an event in which a Q&A with Adam West followed up a screening of the 1960s Batman film).
Despite its flaws, it’s an incredibly watchable, though slightly amateur doc, which makes it kind of perfect that it doesn’t try to be anything more than what it is–a dream for dreamers. Sometimes we need that.
Nicholas Friesen is a filmmaker and the Managing Editor of The Uniter. Follow him @Nicholastronaut