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Rocky Horror as Documentary
The Hot Docs festival announced today it was taking over programming at the Bloor Cinema. But don't expect everything to change at the venerable theatre.

 

The Bloor Cinema in an earlier incarnation. (City of Toronto Archives)

When the roof of the Bloor Cinema collapsed in 2004, there was a documentary on the screen — the Canadian-made The Corporation.

Let’s hope that isn’t an omen for Hot Docs, the documentary film festival, that today announced it’s taking over programming at the Bloor.

Chris McDonald, the executive director of Hot Docs, remembers that the roof collapse forced Hot Docs to move its monthly documentary series, Doc Soup, to another venue while the Bloor was under repair. Fortunately, the roof was ready in time for the 2004 edition of Hot Docs a few months later.

“I think we were the first tenant in there after they fixed the roof,” McDonald said.

Now the Bloor is in better shape. It’s currently under renovation and the smell of new seats will be accompanied by the smell of new owners, the Blue Ice Group, who will take over the building while Hot Docs takes over operations and programming.

Hot Docs is promising more documentary-focused programming, but McDonald assured The Standard the cult shows will be safe.

Rocky Horror has a future at the Bloor,” he said. “We recognize that the Bloor has a loyal and dedicated following and it’s important to us that we not completely change the nature of the programming. It’ll it be predominantly documentary, but we’ll try to find room for some of the second-run, rep-house fare.”

The Bloor will also continue to host other smaller festivals like the After Dark Film Festival, the Toronto Jewish Film Festival and the Images Festival.

And what about that other festival with its shiny new Lightbox at King and John?

“It’s hard to compare the Bloor to the Lightbox,” McDonald said. “We’ve talked to our friends at TIFF and they’re very supportive. It’s good for audiences.”

Hot Docs screened some films at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of this year’s festival and McDonald says that relationship will continue.

Carm Bordonaro has fought to keep the Bloor from condo developers as a manager and, most recently, as an owner of the cinema. He says the comparison to the Lightbox doesn’t hold water — the Bloor has been about community first.

“[The Bloor] is totally community-oriented,” he said. “It’s in the Annex. It’s coming into a spot where people have been coming for 100 years. I don’t think there’s any comparison. I don’t think there’s any competition. I think they’ll get along great.”

Hot Docs taking over the Bloor is more a sign of the hard times that repertory cinemas continue to face. While the Bloor succeeded in a space where larger chains once failed, it has also grown exceptionally deep roots. Bordonaro said distributors have been less generous to second-run cinemas as they rush their films to DVD and Blu-Ray.

Hot Docs has built up an audience and a catalogue of films that might be able to keep the Bloor alive. When it comes down to dollars and cents, there may be tough decisions ahead.

McDonald says Hot Docs will be consulting the community about programming, subscriptions, memberships and pricing.

“We’re not looking to shock anybody with price increases,” he said, the plan is to keep prices “competitive” for moviegoers and the festivals that rent space at the Bloor.

One way the Lightbox pays its way was by selling the naming rights to Bell. Hot Docs has its own corporate sponsors, including notorious naming-rights buyers Scotiabank and Rogers. Would the new management consider a name change?

McDonald didn’t rule it out — neither did Bordonaro — but if that gets your blood boiling, you can rest easy. There aren’t any plans to add anything on to the Bloor Cinema marquee in the immediate future.

If a corporate sponsor did decide it wanted to see its name in lights, they better make sure that the roof will hold their sign, lest history repeat itself.

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