Big trouble in little China, indeed. My memories of working with Alex and Nigel at the Bloor Cinema are mixed with triumph and heartbreak. We dreamed big and delivered: bringing directors Edgar Wright, Kevin Smith, and launching the largest shows in Toronto Fringe Festival history, where Charlie Lawton met his cinephile soulmates. After the Bloor’s owners booted them to the curb, this trio of hardcore film geeks got busy greenscreening themselves into a world of movie magic.
After the interview, while picking out props for the photo shoot, Lawton asks me "Can you take some photos of us where we don’t look like total nerds?" Sorry, Charlie. That’s not possible.
What’s your favourite film to watch on 35mm?
Nigel:Off the top of my head I would say The Godfather. I feel like watching it on 35 is akin to eating a seven-course Italian meal.
Alex:It’s complicated because my favourite film is 2001 and my second favourite is Apocalypse Now but I prefer to watch both of those on 70mm – but that’s impossible. So I would say The Big Lebowski then because that’s shot on 35.
Charlie:Ooh, that’s really tricky. Probably an old classic. I would love to see Indiana Jones on 35 or one of those movies I loved when I was younger. So that, or Ghostbusters, or Clockwork Orange would be beautiful on 35.
How is the experience of watching a film on 35mm different from watching a DVD at home?
Nigel:The most important thing about watching it in a theatre as opposed to at home is that you have an audience to watch it with.
Charlie:When you see it with a crowd it just has an energy and electricity to it that you don’t get at home.
Alex:You’re not only interacting with what’s going on the screen, but you’re also reacting to how the audience is reacting to what’s going on. It just makes it a bit of a more complex and layered experience.
Nigel:35 has its own character. You can see the cigarette mark on the top on the right hand corner when they need to change the reels and sometimes they have some wear and tear that adds to the overall feeling of watching something that’s been crafted on film.
Alex:I always think that 35 looks better than DVD or even Blue Ray because that’s the way it was shot – if it’s shot on 35 I think it should be viewed on 35. If it’s shot digitally then I think watching it through a digital medium is the best way to view it. But nothing beats 35 for a film shot on 35.
Not everyone gets the opportunity to revive a forgotten cinema. What circumstances led you here?
Nigel:Really the opportunity was almost sheer luck.
Alex:After leaving the Bloor Cinema I spent the day with Leslea [a former colleague] tracking down who was running this space – like a full day. I had known about the space for about 5 years but I’d never been inside, so I was really excited. We had a conversation with [the owner] but ultimately we decided it wasn’t the right time. Then a whole bunch of months later Charlie was really bugging me…
Charlie:We were talking and Alex mentioned this theatre and I was like "That sounds like the best job you could possibly have, why did you not do anything with that?" and kinda smacked him on the back of the head and said "Give me the information, I’m going to go do it". Then I got in touch with Nigel.
Nigel:We came in and spoke with the owner and told him that we would provide infrastructure and operate the theatre if he was willing to put some money into it, and he agreed.
Has your experience so far at the Toronto Underground Cinema differed from your expectations?
Alex:The reaction from the community is what really surprised me. It’s not only from general people on Facebook but people within the film community who have really let us know that they really want us to succeed and that they’re really excited.
Charlie:There’s a bit more dancing and listening to music than I thought there would be.
What do you think people should know about the TUC?
Charlie:Most importantly I think they should know where it is.
Alex:We’re located in the basement of a condo building. We’re really hard to find, which is a problem for us but it’s why we called ourselves the Toronto Underground Cinema.
Nigel:It’s a cinema that’s being run and operated by 3 very enthusiastic movie fans. We live and breathe cinema and that’s what’s important to us. When you’re coming here you’re not just a seat number, you are somebody. We’re working to make sure this is a place you want to come regardless of what’s being shown because you know you’ll always have a good time.
In your wildest dreams, what do you want for the TUC?
Charlie:I’d love it to become a part of Toronto’s culture so everyone knows the Underground Cinema. Like the Alamo Draft House in Texas.
Nigel:I’d like it to become the premiere event space in Toronto. I’d like to have directors when they’re filming in the city come here and use the space to enjoy nights with their audience.
Charlie:Kevin Smith one month, Quentin Tarantino another, Martin Scorsese….
Nigel:I’d like to be able to put enough money into the place where it’s top of the line and can compete with the big boys like AMC and Cineplex.
Alex:I want to be able to spend enough money on the lobby to make it look like Tony Montana’s mansion in Scarface. I want a "the world is yours" globe, lit with neon lights, that spins.
What are the most terrifying obstacles between you and success?
Nigel:The most terrifying obstacle is the amount of work it will take.
Charlie:Making sure everything is ready for the opening is probably the most terrifying part. But really the terrifying one that keeps me up at nights is the x-factor, the audience. We could turn this into the best theatre in the world, the floors paved with gold, but for all we know the audience might not show up.
Photos by Dan Epstein. Graphic Design by Victoria Dobbs.