Monday, December 5, 2011

Toronto has slipped in showing independent film

A recent weekend trip to Toronto brought delight and disappointment. Delight because I finally got to step inside the TIFF Bell Lightbox, (left) this new shrine to all things cinema on King St W. and John St. This massive block long building has been open just over a year and is the new headquarters for the Toronto film festival. But it’s much more than that. The building has five cinemas, a museum, an upscale restaurant, a swanky bar and a trendy cafeteria. It also happens to have a 46-storey condo rising from one end of it. The building is amazing from a design perspective, with wide spaces, Bauhaus design elements, and more than plush cinemas. We saw Lars von Trier’s latest, Melancholia. The five storey building also has lots of glass and at night people inside appear ghost-like or as shadows to those on the street below, which is probably Hogtown’s premier party strip. The shadows of course evoke the idea of the flickering elements in a film. We wanted to get to the current museum exhibit Grace Kelly: Style Icon, and certainly much of the building was decked out in the exhibit’s motifs, including a photo booth and the doors of the elevators. But it was too late when we arrived. Oh well, I’ll check it out when I’m in Toronto next week....But the Lightbox experience aside it seemed Toronto had slipped a notch or three in showing independent films. I hadn’t been downtown in four years. But last time I was there the Carlton Cinemas on Carlton near Yonge was still a venerable art house with nine screens. The theatres may have been small and seats uncomfortable but it was still a cornucopia for independent film. Not anymore. Cineplex Odeon had closed the theatre in 2009. Then Edmonton-based Magic Lantern Theatres decided to take it over and reopen with much expectation the art house environment would be recreated. It definitely hasn’t. Sorry to say but the theatre is schlock or mainstream central. They made concessions to two independent films - The Women on the 6th Floor (Philippe Le Guay) and Woody Allen’s latest, Midnight in Paris, which is playing in such wide release it almost seems mainstream. Everything else there I could easily see at Silver City.....Even the Bell Lightbox’s offerings were disappointing considering the sophistication and stature of the complex. Showing Melancholia was fine, I suppose, but not out of the ordinary for an art house anywhere. The others films on show? Le Havre (Aki Kaurismaki), The Mill and the Cross (Lech Majewski), Disney’s Enchanted (Kevin Lima 2007), Marnie, part of the Icy Fire: The Hitchcock Blonde series of films associated with the Grace Kelly exhibit, and Time Bandits (Terry Gilliam, 1981) of all things. Again, all pretty much "mainstream" for art house theatres anywhere. The Lightbox's scheduling was also strange. The paper guide had no mention of Melancholia and The Mill and the Cross on the night we were there yet the films were listed on the online schedule.....The Royal Cinema on College St. seems to be keeping the art house tradition alive and offered a European Union (that’s what it was called until, I guess, they kick Greece out) Film Festival.....And looking at the listings in Toronto’s Now entertainment weekly there are some other venues that screen non-mainstream but the line-ups didn’t seem particularly electrifying. 

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