The process of movie-making is an arduous and hard process even at the best of times, but make no mistake that being an exhibitor, especially an independent one trying to specialize in repertory can be even harder. The Rep is an independent documentary that tracks the rise and the demise of the independently run cinemas in North America and follows the trials and tribulations of three well intentioned young men giving the theatre business a go as their struggles also mark the slow death of a subculture in movie-going audiences everywhere.
It’s an uphill battle to operate The Toronto Underground Cinema for three film geeks. With a sheer lack of business acumen, sacrificed personal lives, and the breakdown of friendship they will stop at nothing to see their theatre succeed and keep the shared experience of watching a film on the big screen alive. The film looks at the world of repertory theatres in an effort to prove that passion for a cinematic experience is still alive and features commentary from directors Kevin Smith (Clerks), John Waters (Hairspray), George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead), Bruce McDonald (Hard Core Logo) as well as other rep cinema operator’s from all across North America. The film asks the questions, how do you get audiences to recognize the cultural value of a rep cinema before it’s too late, and what is the future for rep cinema?
It’s genuinely tough to review a film about a place you’ve been to, and with subjects you actually know personally, however that being said, there is something here in Morgan White’s directorial debut. Much like an art gallery, the rep cinema is a museum to cinema’s past, however with the advent of technology and the home video boom, the cinemas that program only older films have been struggling to stay alive in recent years. White takes us through a brief history of rep cinema as we also get stories from theatre owners and operators from Los Angeles all the way to Montreal, and the history of the business is truly an interesting one. But paired with that we get the story of these three guys trying to make it in the business of being a cinematic exhibitor.
Following Charlie, Alex and Nigel as they dive head first into a business they know little to nothing about was a solid story, but the film skipped over some rather salient points and lost focus on more than one occasion. It bemoaned the death of 35mm film while trying to still operate a business and it shows in no uncertain terms that these guys simply misread the market that they were trying to get into. To an audience less familiar with the day-to-day operations of the theatre, some of these factors will be easier to overlook, but some of the questions that White didn’t ask were probably the more interesting ones.
White could have focused his film on either the historical aspects, with a variety of interviews from filmmakers and other owners, or just about the three guys trying to run the theatre. Instead we get two stories running side by side, and neither story never really got finished. White always treated his subjects with respect and while he avoided some of the bigger elephants in the room in regards to their story, he never sugar coats either as each man comes across as they are, for better or for worse.
Ultimately, The Rep brings some interesting points to light in the culture of repertory cinema even if some of them are a little unrealistic. At the end of the day, it is a film that should probably be seen by anyone who has ever enjoyed the experience of sitting in a theatre and watching a movie…if only to potentially discourage the idea that we’ve all had that running a movie theatre could be a fun idea, because it is also a hell of a lot of work as well.
The Rep is playing at The Revue in Toronto on Wednesday, May 23 and Thursday, May 24 before moving to the Big Picture Cinema-Gerrard (formerly The Projection Booth) for a week-long run beginning Friday, May 25. For more information on the film, visit therepseries.com.
Directed by: Morgan White