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Doc a love letter to dying theatres

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THE "Rep" of the title is short for repertory cinema, theatres that screen older films to an enthusiastic audience of cineastes.

It is a dying institution, even in Toronto, a city that, when I lived there, had a multitude of rep houses including The Roxy, The Bloor, The Revue, The Fox and The Kingsway. (All those rep houses were one of the key reasons I moved to Toronto in the first place.)

This doc follows three young entrepreneurs -- Nigel Agnew, Charlie Lawton and Alex Woodside -- on a quest to open their own rep house, The Toronto Underground Cinema on Spadina Avenue, and keep it in operation.

It turns out to be a challenge on the order of conquering Everest in a wheelchair.

Director Morgan White captures the lows (a week devoted to "good Canadian cinema" was a flat-out disaster) and the highs (Adam West appearing for a Q&A following a screening of the 1966 version of Batman makes for a joyous sell-out).

There are personality conflicts among the trio. There is much discussion on programming quality movies, as opposed to mere second-run fare.

White includes lots of expert testimony to acknowledge that running a rep house can be a dicey proposition. Former Cinematheque programmer Kier-La Janisse discusses her experience with the Blue Sunshine Cinema in Montreal, and suggests it is a matter of both perseverance and inspiration.

Even supposedly successful reps such as the New Beverly in Los Angeles are under threat of the closure or the wrecking ball. The manager of the New Beverly admits his theatre would have gone out of business if Quentin Tarantino hadn't purchased the property and allowed the cinema to stay open by essentially underwriting its existence.

That kind of intervention may be essential in the future. The communal experience of movie-going is falling by the wayside in an era when many people have high-definition TVs and DVD collections.

"I have my own rep house," shrugs Night of the Living Dead director George Romero.

Not that Romero isn't sympathetic. In fact, his reputation was made in rep houses, as were those of his fellow interview subjects Kevin Smith and John Waters. But the game has changed.

White fails to make the point that the decline of the rep house may go hand in hand with the decline of the more alternative movies -- Romero, Waters and Smith's, for instance -- they would showcase. He gets caught up in the drama of the Toronto cinema at the expense of a bigger overview of the kind of non-mainstream alternatives the rep represented.

But the film does at least offer up a portrait of movie love at its most fervent.

Alas, in cinema, as in life, sometimes love is not enough.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 26, 2013 D6

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Updated on Friday, April 26, 2013 at 9:35 AM CDT: adds fact box

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