Will anyone ever again build a new movie theatre in Toronto? There is a credible, and depressing, case to be made that when the Paradise reopened its doors in late 2019 – after sitting dormant for 13 years – that moment just might have marked the very last cinema to launch in the city.
When audience behaviour has shifted irrevocably over the course of the pandemic, when developers have every incentive to build condos instead of theatres and when U.S. theatre giants are filing for bankruptcy, there are enough reasons to believe that Toronto might lose, not gain, cinemas.
Which is all the more reason for local audiences to cherish the venues the city offers now – from the rightfully intimidating Ontario Place Cinesphere to the TIFF Bell Lightbox, easily the finest place to watch a film in the country – and remember the spaces we once took for granted. To that point, The Globe and Mail asked members of Canada’s film community to recall their favourite lost Toronto movie theatres, and what we lose when community spaces go dark for the very last time.
Cameron Bailey, chief executive of the Toronto International Film Festival
The Euclid existed in a brief, early-1990s moment that almost feels like a dream now. Before he launched Mongrel Media, Hussain Amarshi opened a tiny cinema in a building at College and Euclid. The seats were shabby but the vision was brilliant. I did my first film programming in Toronto at the Euclid: a film series featuring actor-singer-activist Paul Robeson, and a screening that future Black Film and Video Network members organized in honour of pioneering documentary filmmaker Jennifer Hodge da Silva. In 1991, the Inside Out LGBTQ festival made its debut at the Euclid. Not long after, a Starbucks moved in and the building was converted to condos. The End.
Atom Egoyan, filmmaker (The Sweet Hereafter, Guest of Honour)
The old Cinema Lumiere on College and Spadina was the closest place to watch art films while I was going to U of T in the early 1980s. There was a small unused balcony right below the projection booth. It always seemed like such a haunted space. I often saw people lurking around up there but could never figure out what they were doing. One night as the lights came up after a screening of Luis Bunuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire, I noticed a mysterious looking woman sitting alone upstairs. I waited to see if she would come down to the lobby, but she never appeared.
Clement Virgo, filmmaker (The Book of Negroes, Brother)
In the summer of 1984, I went to the Uptown 1 on Yonge to see Purple Rain. The film and Prince mesmerized me. After it was over, I went into the bathroom and hid in the stall. Then, I snuck back into the theatre and watched the film all over again. I must’ve seen Purple Rain five times that summer at the Uptown. At the Toronto Film Festival in 1995, my first feature film Rude had its Canadian premiere in that very same theatre. I have fond memories of the Uptown 1, that long-lost Toronto cinema.
Catherine Hernandez, novelist and screenwriter (Scarborough)
Ha! I laugh in the face of VIP screening rooms with reclining seats and a la carte menus. I would rather go back in time to the sticky floors of the Cedarbrae 8 Cinema in Scarborough. Just thinking about that low-rise, high-hopes movie theatre brings back the smell of stale popcorn in greasy bags and fresh CK One on the necks of cute boys sitting one aisle over. Kids nowadays will never know the wonder of seeing Jurassic Park’s CGI for the first time and thinking, “How the hell did Spielberg bring dinosaurs back to life?!”
Warren P. Sonoda, Directors Guild of Canada national president, filmmaker (Trailer Park Boys, Coopers’ Camera)
For me it was the Cumberland Four in Yorkville, because not a lot of filmmakers get to close a movie theatre in their lives. My film Servitude opened April 30, 2012, (one N in NOW Magazine, but I swear it killed in Sudbury!) and then the Cumberland closed May 6. I mean, we couldn’t even get a second week (and we should have). I don’t know if our premiere was part of its demise, but I’ll remember it this way: writer/producer Michael Sparaga and a handful of cast and crew at the theatre wondering if anyone would show up, then seeing so many strangers and friends, (you know who you are) surround us, making us realize that our journey was the reward, not the destination.
The Cumberland is a Nespresso Boutique now and it’s fair to say it’s harder to see independent films in theatres. Mr. Sparaga is making a fantastic new movie, Humane, with debut director Caitlin Cronenberg that I hope bucks this trend, and I’m screening my latest film, Things I Do For Money, at the Westdale in Hamilton on Dec. 16, so closing a theatre didn’t end our careers – but I do wonder how many careers haven’t started yet because it’s so hard to get our stories on a screen. I hope the newly formed Network of Independent Canadian Exhibitors (NICE) can find some answers for us. The next wave of filmmakers deserve it.
Chandler Levack, filmmaker (I Like Movies)
If I could travel back in time, I’d love to watch a movie at the Toronto Underground Cinema again. This glorious theatre in the basement of a Chinatown mall near Spadina and Dundas was cinephile heaven. I associate the space with the halcyon days of Torontopia, a time in the city when rent was affordable and people had energy to make independent art instead of hipster bahn-mi pop-ups. The theatre was once an Asian cinema called the Golden Harvest that specialized in kung-fu action movies in the 1980s. Ex-Bloor Cinema managers Nigel Agnew and Alex Woodside (now a projectionist at TIFF) alongside indie filmmaker Charlie Lawton rescued the dormant theatre for a brief and magical two years between 2010 and 2012.
I saw so many great movies in the theatre’s humongous mauve basement during that little glorious window of time – a perfect 35mm print of Clueless after a summer afternoon spent swimming at the nearby public pool; my first-ever experience seeing John Paizs’s Crimewave, as introduced by the filmmaker himself; a live performance during Nuit Blanche that saw local indie musicians playing Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit for 12 hours straight; Showgirls for the first time, again on 35mm. The Toronto Underground Cinema had grit and cult cinema electricity in spades; it was Toronto’s answer to Quentin Tarantino’s New Beverly in Los Angeles. Fittingly, the space is now a church, which at least reflects how I felt about it back then.