Rating: 3 stars out of 5
Directed by: Morgan White
Featuring: Nigel Agnew, Charlie Lawton, Alex Woodside
Running time: 99 minutes
Parental guidance: Coarse language
Three years ago, three film nerds from Toronto named Nigel Agnew, Charlie Lawton, and Alex Woodside decided to open their own repertory cinema. It would be called the Toronto Underground Cinema and be housed in a modern theatre that someone had built below a condominium on downtown Spadina Avenue. It wasn?t easy to find ? you had to go under a sign that said Office Furniture ? but Nigel, Charlie and Alex were sure they could make a go of it.
Owning a movie theatre is a common dream for movie nerds, even though, as the documentary The Rep points out, it?s fraught with dangers.
For one thing, it?s a psychologically delicate operation: programmers throw movies up on screen and when people don?t come to see them, they feel rejected. Keith Altomare of the Bijou Theatre in New York, one of several experts interviewed in The Rep, says it?s like a daily election, ?and if you don?t show up, you?re not re-voting for us.?
Then there?s the money factor. It?s a tough business, and Noah Cowan, the artistic director of the Toronto film festival, calls it a road to a life of semi-poverty.
Alex agrees. ?It?s not good business sense to open it,? he says. ?But f? that.?
The Rep is a record of a year in the life of the Toronto Underground Cinema: the sparse crowds, the bickering among the partners, the sad look on the face of Nigel?s girlfriend when she realizes this will be another night when he has to be at the theatre.
The cinema seats almost 700, but attracts only handfuls: at one stage, desperate for new ideas, Alex institutes a Canadian cinema week, despite the misgivings of Nigel, the resident cynic.
?It?s a waste of time,? he says. ?No one will come,? and indeed, just eight paying customers come to see Atom Egoyan?s The Sweet Hereafter. When a screening of the sci-fi film Cube is beset by technical problems ? and with the director present ? Alex goes into a back room to recover in unhappy privacy.
First-time director Morgan White, who was allowed access to every private moment, intercuts the story with a broader look at rep cinema. It?s almost a genre unto itself, typically held in older movie houses that show second-run and art films to audiences who love film.
?People collectively dream in the dark with each other,? in the words of Sam Sharkey of San Francisco?s Red Vic theatre, which has now, alas, closed.
The Red Vic is one of many rep houses that are gone. Film buffs love them ?director Bruce McDonald contrasts them to the ?shit mall-box crap theatres? ? but video and wide-screen TV?s have cut the audiences. Horror director George Romero says his rep house is his room upstairs.
The Rep never gets under the skin of its three heroes, although we do get quick portraits of three personalities who, in the words of Charlie, ?make one fully functional person.? As a matter of interest, Charlie owns six Batman T-shirts.
There is also a bit of suspense ? the idea to get Adam West of the old Batman TV show to attend the screening of his campy Batman movie is a lesson in the tensions of celebrity capitalism ? and even some psychological drama in the clash of personalities when Alex and Nigel decide that Charlie isn?t pulling his weight as a partner.
Most of all, though, it?s a love letter to the theatres that exhibit classic movies on 35mm film to audiences that are enthralled by them. They are a dying breed, and The Rep presents a catalogue of grand old cinemas that have been closed, converted to gyms or, in one particularly poignant show, a video store.
The Rep closes with a plea to support your local theatre. The New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles stays open because Quentin Tarantino bought the building. The least the average movie buff can do is buy a ticket.