It was a hectic evening at the Bloor Cinema in Toronto, as it always is at a repertory theater when Edgar Wright comes to town. But while most eyes were fixed on the “Hot Fuzz” director, Morgan White’s attention drifted towards Alex Woodside, the flustered theater manager who was running down the aisle.
“It surprised me,” said White. “It made me look around the theater that night and I realized there’s a story here.”
For the past two years, White has told a part of that story online in the Web series, “The Rep,” a charming five-episode documentary about Woodside’s attempts with partners Charlie Lawton and Nigel Agnew to open and operate the Toronto Underground Cinema. Like so many repertory houses, their efforts are fueled by passion rather than dollars, so watching the trio cope with power outages, malfunctioning projectors and all the responsibilities of running a big theater with a small staff has more than its share of inherent drama – my favorite episode, which I’ve embedded below, involves the gang uncovering a cache of old films in the basement of an abandoned cinema:
Naturally, a project about film buffs could only be contained to the small screen for so long and White has now turned to the crowdsourcing site Rocket Hub to help complete a feature version of “The Rep.” Equaling the ambition of the Toronto Underground Cinema staff, White has kept their story at the center of his film to show what it takes to run a repertory house, but traveled to other parts of Canada and beyond for a more well-rounded look at the theaters that are keeping the tradition of showing classic films in front of a crowd alive, even if it’s perceived by some as a relic of a bygone era.
“I told myself that it wasn't easy to run a rep, and that no matter how hard The Underground tried it would always be an uphill battle, as repertory cinema is a thing of the past,” said White. “By going to other theatres and talking to other people I realized that it's a fact. It's a struggle, but a worthy one.”
White could say the same thing about completing “The Rep,” which requires additional editing and other postproduction odds and ends. Additional funds will help shape the footage he captured during a cross-country tour of American theaters, some thriving such as the New Beverly in Los Angeles or the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin and others in complete disrepair such as the Eastown Theatre in Detroit as well as interviews with filmmakers including Wright, Atom Egoyan, George A. Romero and John Waters and programmers who are nearly as famous amongst cinephiles such as Film Forum’s Bruce Goldstein, the New Yorker’s Dan Talbot, the New Beverly’s Michael Torgan, the Drafthouse’s Lars Nilsen, and former Drafthouse-now Blue Sunshine programmer Kier-La Janisse. All together, it's bound to be a fascinating chronicle of an interesting cultural moment for the film business in addition to preserving the memory of something as important as the movies we’ve seen – the places we’ve seen them.
If all goes according to plan, White hopes to finish a cut for festival submissions by the late spring or early summer after which he hopes audiences will appreciate all the hard work that has gone into “The Rep” both behind and in front of the camera.
“There's this romantic idea of running a cinema that many of us film fans have,” said White. “I think it'll be interesting for people to see the amount of effort that goes in to presenting a movie, and making an event happen.”
Considering the promise of the Web series, seeing “The Rep” on the big screen should be an event in and of itself.
To back this project and see a trailer, visit the film's Rocket Hub page here. And keep track of the progress of "The Rep" through the film's official site, where you can watch the whole five-part Web series, and on Facebook and Twitter.