Just back from visiting Toronto which is a city packed with amazing cinemas and a film culture to rival Paris or New York. The indie cinema scene is positively bursting with life and imagination, and there is so much of it!
Not just open air summer screenings in the park, but “sail-in” movies at the harbour, the fantastic Hot Docs documentary cinema, TIFF Bell Lightbox, the Projection Booth, the Fox chain of vintage neighbourhood picture houses, the rather fabulously named Magic Lantern Theatre, the Revue, and not least the one-and-only Cineforum, run by Mr Reg Hartt from the front room of his house.
I stumbled upon it after seeing the posters stuck onto pillars and lamp-posts on a downtown wander,
which is one of the best ways to find out about this kind of cinema, though it has been notorious for raising eyebrows and pandemonium in the city for the last 20 years, with Reg – kind of a cross between Amos Vogel, Timothy Leary and Kenneth Anger – showing a range of offbeat and underground films, possibly accompanied by an off-the-cuff talk (sometimes before and sometimes even during the film screening…)
To get to Cineforum, you have to take a streetcar or a walk down to the seedily hip Bathhurst area.
Reg sits on his porch beneath the words, written in Greek, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here”, surveying the world and greeting passers by. A quote from Aldous Huxley graces the steps.
Inside, you’re ushered into the cinema room which is painted red, stuffed with books, film posters and memorabilia with room for about two dozen office chairs and a screen at one end. He shows the films with a small digital projector (just like ours!), and unusually for such a non-mainstream film buff, is evangelical about DVD and Blu-Ray over analogue film. He has also invested in a really good in-built sound system – nevertheless, you are still very much aware of watching a movie in someone else’s front room, with various house-guests wandering around outside and the odd kitten sneaking past your feet.
It was really fun to be part of someone else’s quirky vision, to meet someone who loves film and people and ideas and odd juxtapositions of sound and vision (“Nosferatu” with a soundtrack of Radiohead’s “Kid A”, “Blood and Sand” to the tune of a Cuban guitar) alongside a good dollop of eastern mysticism.
Jane Jacobs, revered writer/urban visionary, was his friend and fan, and the Cineforum seemed to me like the essence of community- inspired, grassroots projects that just by being there at all have much larger ripples through to the wider society.
Cinema is already a strong cultural presence in Toronto but is even richer as a result of quirky venues like the Cineforum and enthusiasts like Reg. I came away from our meeting feeling elated, thoughtful and determined to keep on keeping on with what we do – to find ways to show more interesting and beautiful films, find good places to show them, and people who share that vision.