Toronto’s Festival Cinema chain is closing

posted by jlangdon on May 31, 2006 at 6:43 am

TORONTO, CANADA — On June 30, 2006, Toronto’s Festival Cinemas are closing for good. News broke two weeks ago that the Kingsway, Revue and Royal Cinemas were ceasing operation. I just got word this morning that the Paradise and Fox Cinemas are also closing, unable to go on without the other three in the chain.

The Festival Cinemas were Toronto’s largest repertory cinema group and ran for nearly 30 years in old movie houses across the city no longer in use by the major chains. The Revue dates from 1911, the Fox from a few years later. The Kingsway, Royal and Paradise were all built in the 30’s the height of art deco cinemas.

I’ve been a member since July 1984 and this comes as a huge blow to me. At times I got to over 70 screenings in a year — mostly at the Festival Cinemas.

Naturally the area business communities will take a hit as the patrons who came from all over the city will not be venturing out to those neighbourhoods on a regular basis, browsing through their stores. And the biggest worry is will someone come in a tear them all down?

During the 30 years of the Festival chain’s life, some cinemas have come and gone. The heyday came about six years ago when there were 8 in the chain including the Music Hall (now restored as a live performance venue), the Capitol (gutted to become an event-hosting venue) and the Bloor (which broke from the chain six or so years ago). Other past members included the Brighton and the Roxy.

With the closure that leaves the Bloor, the Mount Pleasant and the Regent as Toronto’s remaining small cinemas.

If anyone has any ideas on how we Torontonians can save at least one or two of them, please let me know!!!

Festival Cinemas
Article in the Toronto Star
Editorial in Eye Magazine

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Comments (7)

telliott on June 1, 2006 at 2:45 pm

I too am very saddened to hear this news. I can imagine one or two closing but NOT the whole chain. I’ve been a member since the early 80s and have seen many many films at all of these theatres which seemed to have “serious” movie going audiences as opposed to just a bunch of loud mouth kids that go to all the multiplexes with their loud, noisy lobbys. These theatres really were a throwback to another time and each one had updated their screens and sound systems over the last few years. I guess you think that they will always be around but alas all good things must come to an end. And jlangdon is sooo right when he says that the surrounding businesses will suffer, it was always so nice to leave the theatre and go have a coffee or a drink in one of the many surrounding cafes or restaurants especially in the areas of the Kingsway, Revue and Fox. And the Royal, right in little Italy, what a vibrant neighbourhood so I guess it won’t be as bad, but it won’t be the same for me going to these area without these wonderful old cinemas there. Too bad, what a damn shame. I’m hoping that someone, somehow can rescue a couple of these gems and keep them going, but maybe that’s holding on to a dream whose time is gone.

schmadrian on June 3, 2006 at 4:10 pm

Fascinating stuff. Because not more than three weeks ago, one of my best friends and I were discussing cinemas in Toronto…and we sat there and tossed around some figures based on some numbers we knew we could depend on…and couldn’t figure how the chain stayed in business. (I should say that the subject was brought up because of a post on this very site made by someone wanting to ‘resurrect’ cinemas in the GTA.)

My understanding is that Toronto is the number one film market in the world in terms of number of films seen per year per capita. And yet we’re facing the possibility of losing FIVE screens in one fell swoop. This is an incredibly cosmopolitan city. It is a university city. It’s Canada’s largest city. And yet this is the reality, that even this city, home of one of the top three international film festivals…cannot sustain four second-run/art house cinemas.

As part of our discussion, I threw out the possibility that the marketing was off for these theatres. And that each of them is in need of renovations or upkeep to varying extents, so they’re hardly a draw to anyone other than film die-hards…whose patronage simply doesn’t pay the rent. (I’m speaking in generalities, here. Within a short span of time I was at a show at the Paradise where there were ten of us -the staff have an ongoing pool- and one at the Fox where there were close to fifty. Both non-weekend shows.)

Can Toronto support this chain/these cinemas?
But it won’t if the existing business model is replicated.
I die a little every time I see a cinema go under. I wince when I come across a cinema that’s being used for something other than showing films. But as much as I love theatres (and I think I’ve proven this in the form of having written two screenplays that feature film palaces as well as recently planning a road trip of cinemas from Toronto through New England on down to Virginia), it pains me when I have to reconcile my love of cinema treasures with what amounts to stagnant business practices. I know this sounds harsh, and God bless those involved with the Festival chain over the years, but this is business. And I don’t think if these locations were start-ups, they’d have lasted long at all.

Do I have a plan that I think will work? Sure. But it would require a bold approach…and a whack of money.

Toronto deserves to have storied cinemas. I hope these five don’t become storied memories.

DaveRockin on December 26, 2006 at 10:48 pm

“The Royal Cinema, one of four neighbourhood repertory theatres that shut earlier this year after the death of the owner, has been taken over by Theatre D Digital.

The company plans to do post-production film work in four editing suites during the day and show movies in the evenings and on weekend afternoons."

View link

Maybe there is hope for the Kingsway and other old cinemas with this new approach. Let’s not let them turn into grocery stores or something equally depressing!

-Dave Rockin'

schmadrian on December 27, 2006 at 2:12 am

But if you were to take a look at the gradual -and consistent- decrease in the number of ‘local cinemas’ in Toronto, if you actully saw how many there ‘used to be’, none of what’s happening now would come as a surprise. Filmgoing trends in Toronto have changed. It’s extraordinarily difficult for a ‘nabe’ anywhere in the world to thrive. It requires… Well, I suspect it requires what these cinemas did not have.

As for these structures being turned into ‘grocery stores or something equally depressing’… What’s worse? Seeing a former storied cinema as a book store or demolished.

I’d be very curious to see the figures of cinemas in North America that have been brought back from ‘Closed’ to a thriving/solvent state. I’d be willing to be the category these instances would fall under would be ‘rare’.

Me? I want to win the Lottery and restore The Century in Hamilton. Then I can die a happy man.

jlangdon on December 27, 2006 at 5:12 am

Thanks for the news. My sister and I are off to the Royal tonight to see Monkey Warfare. I’m thrilled the Royal was saved. And I know the Revue’s neighbours have been working tirelessly to get movies or live performance in it since the closing.

The Fox is still going and I trek out to the Beach every couple of weeks to catch something there.

But the Kingsway and the Paradise are under threat of demolition. They’re younger than the Fox and Revue and not as likely to be spared. The Kingsway is large enough and in such a prime location that a condo would be it’s likely replacement. I can’t see it sitting empty for too much longer.

DaveRockin on December 27, 2006 at 9:15 am

“What’s worse? Seeing a former storied cinema as a book store or demolished.” They both suck, I think. The older cinemas survived quite well all this time, and now they need other ways to increase income – get creative and think positive. It’s not a “surprise” they are going under, but just sad. Toronto has not much respect for it’s history in regards to buildings. Still, I look to the positive work that some are doing to save old cinemas ( – that or some rich folks should step forward!

Nice about the Royal, I plan to check it out soon too!

schmadrian on December 27, 2006 at 12:13 pm

No question that there might be a dearth of ‘respect’ when it comes to Toronto and its buildings, but really, if you bring down the romance-factor a little, these aren’t so much ‘buildings’ as they are ‘businesses’. And why do you suppose the businesses in these buildings failed?

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