When cinephiles talk about movies, they’re usually referring to the films themselves rather than their experiences watching them. But a new exhibit staged in conjunction with the Images Festival aims to shift the conversation from the silver screen to the movie theatres that house them.
“You ask anyone of any age about a great movie-going memory and everyone has a gazillion of them,” says Eric Veillette, the exhibit’s curator.
Dubbed Toronto: Cinema City, Veillette’s exhibit is an extension of his five-year-old website Silent Toronto, which explores the rich history of Toronto’s movie theatres and exhibitions. “It’s a long work in progress.”
Cinema City began with an interactive Google map created by Veillette and Paul Moore, the director of the Canadian Theatre Historical Project. The map tracks the location of the various theatres that have graced Toronto’s neighbourhoods over the past century. When the Images Festival approached Veillette about recreating the map, he suggested a full exhibit. Competition from television caused a drop in movie attendance in the 1950s that lasted through most of the 1970s, when Cineplex began opening the first multiplexes. “Theatres weren’t being built anymore,” he says. “It gave people choice.”
Still, it’s the individual theatres, many built during the 1910s and 1920s that Veillette looks back on fondly. “Neighbourhoods played such a big role.”
Rather than the catch-all appeal of a multiplex, theatre owners would cater their programming to local residents, something Veillette says continues today, albeit, on a much smaller scale at theatres like the Revue on Roncesvalles.
“I live in the Junction. Within a three or four block radius from where I’m sitting, there were six theatres,” he says. “We didn’t have the biggest or the best movie theatres, but we had so many movie theatres. There were hundreds of them. The movies came to you.”
Check out silenttoronto.com for information on dates and prices.
Now in its 25th year, the Images Festival is the city’s second-longest running film fest
- Action! To celebrate a quarter century of showcasing experimental films, festival organizers from the show’s first incarnation have selected their favourite choices from the 1988 program for a pair of special screenings. Tickets are available through the festival website, imagesfestival.com.