Thursday, June 28, 2007

Brunswick Theatre Interview, Part I - 'We won't shy away from screening a controversial documentary'

The first time I saw the poster adevertising a film on 'Vatican Sex Crimes', I thought I was in for a sleezy sexploitation flick centred on the busy fingers of a parish priest. Examining the fine print, I found the poster actually advertised the screening at the Brunswick Theatre of a film on the recent sex scandals that have plagued the Catholic church. I don't know whether the owners of the Brunswick intented to foster in the public this sort of initial misreading of their ad, but I had to admit, it was effective - I now wanted to find out more about this local cinema that so brazenly advertised the moral short comings of the Catholic clergy.

A bit of digging on the internet (read: Googling 'Brunswick Theatre Toronto') soon turned up the contact info for the programmer of the Brunswick, a Mr. Scott Gilbert, and I requested a brief interview. Arriving early for our meeting, I had the chance to peruse the shelves of videos and books the theatre stocks for sale. The videos ranged from documentaries on 9/11 and the Iraq war to global warming and the connection between mardi gras beads and Chinese factory labour, while the books stocked featured the usual suspects: Chomsky, Nader, Hersh. Next to the popcorn machine was a table littered with pamphlets and books on Cuba and the Cuban revolution, most of them in Spanish. This seemed to be a favourite theme of the theatre, as when I later wandered into the screening room I saw displayed prominently on one of the walls a banner calling for the freeing of the 'Cuban Five'. The theatre was a hodgepodge of political views and sympathies and, in a way, I admired the earnestness of it all. While I didn't completely share the theatre owner's obvious enthusiasm for progressive politics, it was certainly preferable to the affected apathy that passes for trenchant social insight among Toronto's hipster crowds.

Meeting Scott outside the theatre (which is on Brunswick Ave., just off Bloor and next to Futures Bakery), I was able to put to him some questions regarding the motivation behind launching the Brunswick, the theatre's politics, and it's connection to Toronto's activist community. (Once again, the interview has been divided into smaller parts to make for easier reading.)

Kino-Eye: Why and how did you come to found the Brunswick?

Scott Gilbert: We decided to start this more as a vehicle for social change than as a commercial venture. It's kind of an extension of our earlier work - we've now been open here for four months, but for a year before that we were renting the Bloor Cinema and doing documentaries there, anywhere from two to five (documentaries) a month, and before that for three years in Guelph, as students on the student union, we were involved in various activities that included bringing in speakers and holding talks. So we've got a lot of experience over the last several years and we're now trying to give it a shot and make it a business.

KE: Now, I'm going to jump ahead in my list of questions, as you've already touched on something I had planned on bringing up later. You seem to be screening quite a lot of politically-themed documentaries and have seemed to have carved out a niche market for yourself screening films that other theatres are uninterested in. What motivated you to screen these films and why do you believe these films are of importance?

SG: Well that's just it. In light of the fact that so many other theatres in the city closing down, we knew we had to have an edge on the market, and we're definitely not going to make it anywhere if we're going to be showing just the big mainstream films. Most of the other theatres around the city do the mainstream fictional films, the comedies and stuff like that, and when they do bring on documentaries, it's usually only the big ones like 'The Corporation' or something by Michael Moore. But there are literally thousands upon thousands of other documentaries out there that none of the big cinemas screen. Most of the time you can't get these films from Blockbuster or other local video stores, and a lot of the time they're not available for download off the internet, and if they are, they are difficult to find.

That's kind of our edge on the market - we've turned this space not only into a screening room but a video rental store for a lot of these films. We're starting to archive them and make them available for people, either for rental or to see on the big screen. The additional edge we have on the market is that we hold a discussion after each film. We won't show documentaries of some guy in his ski trip - we'll show documentaries that have a political, social, or environmental mandate to it.

KE: So your response to someone who would be disinclined to go to one of your screenings because they believe they can simply rent the film at their local video store would be that these films just aren't widely available for rent.

SG: Exactly. I would say that probably about 16-20% of our titles you can get at Queen or Suspect Video, but the vast majority are just not available at either of those locations. I really don't understand why - there is a market for them and people certainly want to see them. But I think most video stores simply aren't aware of these films because most documentary film makers and distributors don;t have the budgets to allow for mass marketing campaigns in multiple cities. Most of these films are made for the university and high school market, so what we do is contact different school boards and different university libraries and go through their collections and that's how we learn about a lot of these titles.

KE: You just mentioned that a lot of these films are being produced for the university market. Do you find that your principle audience is students, or are you reaching a much wider audience?

SG: We are trying to reach a lot of university students but are just not getting the kind of numbers we were expecting from that crowd. We find that most of our audience is actually in the range of 35 and older, which is actually surprising. It could be that most students don't have a lot of time or money, so we're trying to make some changes to encourage them to come out more, but by and large most of the people who do come are middle aged.

KE: You have started a pretty aggressive marketing campaign, postering many major streets with ads for these films. Is this campaign recent and, if so, have you noticed an increase in turnout due to the postering campaign?

SG: We use postering primarily because it is what we can afford. We go around on a moped and do major intersections. On key strips, like along Bloor from Bathurst to Yonge, we'll do every pole, but most of the time we'll just bounce from intersection to intersection, trying to cover the widest range possible. We've found it to be very effective in getting random people that we otherwise may not reach. But it is also limited because there are simply so many posters out there that many people do not see them. City workers tear them down, as do people that disagree with the films. So there are pros and cons to postering - sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

KE: You say that there are people who tear down your posters because, politically, they find something objectionable in the films you are screening. How can you distinguish between those individuals and the city workers who are paid to tear down every poster they come across?

SG: Oh, they tell us. We'll see them do it and they'll yell at us from across the street as we are putting up other posters. Our web designer got a phone call asking him not to make a website for us. The biggest opposition has been surrounding around the screening of 'The God Delusion' by Richard Dawkins. Our position is that we won't shy away from screening a controversial documentary and encourage people to come out to express their views. We respect all view points in our audience and we encourage people to come out and criticize the films. We'll never turn away anyone based on their view point and in fact we often offer critics free tickets to our screenings so that we can get them in there and diversify the view points in the room and facilitate a free and open discussion on the topic.

KE: Are these post-film discussions meant to make the film-going experience more active and less passive?

SG: Exactly. We always try to block off at least 45 minutes after each screening after each film. The idea is that we really want to get a dialogue going on these films. A lot of these films are really powerful and they take a lot of you and it is important to get a discussion going on them because a lot of the time people feel that they do need time to bounce ideas off other people in the audience and think about constructive ways of dealing with the issues raised in the film. If you see any of these films at another theatre, you just see the movie and go home - you're not provided with this opportunity for social discourse.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Brunswick Theatre Interview, Part II - 'We're really about getting a social movement going'

KE: You've mentioned repeatedly that there is a political motive to what you are doing. And looking upstairs in the theatre, I see the theatre also stocks fair trade clothing and books by such writers as Chomsky, Nader, Hersh, and Caldicott. It seems that you have set your sights on something much larger than merely screening films. Do you consider the Brusnwick Theatre as having a, and I use this term very loosely, political agenda? In other words, are you trying to galvanize public interest or support around certain key issues or concerns?

SG: Absolutely. We don't identify ourselves with any particular political party - we keep our personal political views to ourselves. But we certainly do advocate for certain cause. We promote fair trade, we promote social justice, we promote general community involvement - these are all things that do have a political edge to them. Many of the books that we offer are in the realm of the programming that we deal with. All the documentaries that we deal with are of the a political or socially progressive nature, whether it be global warming or resource depletion. We're really about getting a social movement going and less so about just being a bookstore where we sell books on any type of issue just to make money or screening any kind of film just to fill seats. It really does have a specific focus and we've coined our mandate as loosely covering the issues of social justice, politics, and the environment. Something like 'The God Delusion' doesn't really fall neatly into any one of them but does fall loosely into the political theme and to a certain extent social justice as well. We do try to keep all our programming within that range and of course support it with he products as well.

One of the things we are thinking of doing is to retail energy efficient light bulbs. We deal with global warming through our screenings and we want to supply people with a quick and easy way of dealing with the problem. We sell fair trade clothing because we screen many films that deal with sweat shop labour and labour conditions in China and other countries where labour standards are very poor, and we want to provide people with the opportunity to support alternatives to sweat shop labour-produced clothing.

KE: So do you select you documentaries on their political or their artistic merits?

SG: For the message. The films are usually low budget, weren't very well made, or even they have points where the DVD skips, but we screen them anyways because we believe in the message. Some of the films we have we just taped off of TV, they're not very high quality, but people who come to see them, by and large, don't really care about the picture or sound quality. We go much more for the message.

KE: So how do you see your relationship to Toronto's various social movements, such as the Toronto Coalition to Stop the War?

SG: Well, we want to build coalitions and work in solidarity with them as much as possible. An example is that in the first month of June, there was a film festival that was arranged by a fellow who works quite closely with us in booking the space. It was called 'Occupation is a Crime' and it was a collaborative film festival and it was a collaborative film festival where several different groups from across the city each took one night of the week. So we had the Toronto Coalition to the Stop the War, there was the Toronto Haiti Action Committee, No One is Illegal, Not in Our Name, the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid - a whole bunch of groups from across the city that all advocate for their own individual causes and what we want to provide is a hub for all these groups to come together. Even if their individual view points differ, we want to provide a communal space for them to raise their voices. We don't want to focus on one group over another.

KE: Have these groups solicited you for support or have you tended to approach them?

SG: It's been a mix. Certainly when we got going, we tried to do a lot of out reach through phone and email, letting these groups know that we existed, and over time there have been a few key people that have picked up the ball and run with it and done most of the organizing. On our end, we have a limited amount of time, but we have almost all the major players in the city that advocate for various causes aware of us and what we do and have either a night here and there or plan to in the near future.

KE: Your mandate seems quite similar to Uprising! Books in Kensington Market. Do you have any connection with them?

SG: We don't any direct relation with them. Funny that you mention it, though. I was born and raised in Toronto and then studied in Guelph for four years. And before i left for Guelph, I became acquainted with several groups in Toronto and really came to like what Uprising! was doing in Toronto and wanted to emulate it without stepping on their toes. I really liked to idea of books that were not always mainstream. The other group that we took inspiration from was Boiling Frog Productions. They used to rent the basement of a bar up on Keele and Dudas and do screenings of documentaries on a weekly basis, which was a pay-what-you-can or $5 type of deal, and they combined that with DVD and book sales. So when we developed our business plan, we looked at these various examples and tried to take the best characteristics from each of them and try to determine what they were doing wrong and try our venture into something on a larger scale.

KE: Do you have any relation to the grindhouse films that are shown at the Brunswick?

SG: There are actually two different groups screening grindhouse films. One group was renting the space on Saturday nights sometime ago and has left and is thinking of setting up their own cinema, and we are now renting to another group on Friday nights. We don't have any official connection to them - it's an example of the kinds of private booking deals that we do.

KE: What do you see as the relationship between the Brunswick and the other theatres in Toronto?

SG: We're definitely very different. One of the major differences is that we don't do any actual film projection - we don't do 35 or 16mm. All we do is DVD, VHS, or laptop projection. So that's definitely one of the major differences. Most cinemas have fixed seating - we don't. Most cinemas screen films to make money, whereas we have a very clear mandate. We're definitely smaller than most cinemas. One hundred seats is our maximum capacity and we usually only have 65-70 out on the floor. And we're one of the only cinemas that does regular free screenings. We usually have 6-7 free screenings a month.

KE: What has turn out been like?

SG: When we charge at the door, we're averaging 15-20 a day right now. When we do free screenings, it's anywhere from 50-100 people. Overall, we've found that to be effective, because they buy popcorn and refreshments and we pass a hat around and we usually make more off of that than you do charging $10 at the door. The problem with that is that you deplete your resources pretty quickly as everyone will have seen the film. For it's a balance and we like to take a bit of each.

KE: Thank you very much for you time.

SG: No problem.

For more info on the Brunswick, check out it's website.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

For all you scribblers out there...

If you're hungry for indie animation (but like it served up in Youtube-sized portions), then you're advised to check out the Toronto Animated Image Society Animation Showcase 2007. Describing itself as 'a not-for-profit, artist-run organization whose mandate is to explore and promote the art of animation', the Showcase 2007 will feature films of all genres, styles, mediums, and themes, all under 15 minutes in length. The screening is to be held tomorrow (Wednesday, June 27) at 6:30 at the National Film Board Cinema on 150 John St, with a reception to follow. Admission is free for TAIS members and 'selected animators', or $5 for the rest of us schlubs.

For more info on TAIS, mozy on over to their website. And when you're finished there, saunter over to their blog.

Sorry for the late notice on this event - I only just found out about it today as I was on my way home from work.

Monday, June 25, 2007

I was a teenage 'Fibber McGee and Molly' fan

If you find yourself with a half hour to spare around, oh, let's say, 2:30 on a Friday afternoon, be sure to tune in to CKLN, Ryerson campus' radio station, to catch 'Cinephobia', a weekly program dedicated to all things film run by a chap from Liverpool, Stuart Andrews. Stacey Case will be on the program this week plugging Trash Palace, so be sure to check it out.

Head on over to CKLN's homepage. And after you've done that, check out Cinephobia's Myspace page.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Kino-Eye and Senator Ted Stevens Proudly Present 'The Internet: A Series of Tubes'

Need to check the movie listings but all the copies of NOW Magazine have been pilfered from the box by the bus stop? Try It covers everything from Cinematheque to Cinecycle. So now you have no excuse for missing C.H.U.D. at the Brunswick.

You'll never guess where Pai Mei's weak spot is...

A quick plug for two blogs run by Colin Geddes, the man behind the Kung Fu Fridays screenings at the Royal and the Revue, and the programmer for the Midnight Madness portion of the Toronto International Film Festival. Colin has been of great assistance in alerting Kino-Eye to film-related happenings around the city and we can only hope that, like the Shaolin Temple after its decimation in 1732 at the hands of the hated Qing, the Temple of Fu will rise again.

To check out Colin's 'Kung Fu Fridays' blog, which discusses all things k-fu related, click here. (Much respect, Colin, for choosing Lo Lieh as your profile pic. Not the most handsome of the Shaw Brothers' stable of actors, but one hell of a Pai Mei.)

For 'Popcorn & Sticky Floors', a more general blog dealing with the films and theatres of yester-year, click here.

Got a blog, a magazine, a zine, or a radio program that you want us to plug? Send us the info and it will be done!


The pendulum swings in the opposite direction...

From Stacey Case's Trash Palace, we now move to Cinematheque Ontario, which for the duration of the summer will be running a retrospective of films from the Janus Films collection (Janus Films being an independent North American distributor which can be credited with introducing to North American audiences over the last five decades some of the greatest films and directors of world cinema). Call it a Best-of-the-Best, or All-Killer-No-Filler - Renoir, Kurosawa, De Sica, Bergman, Bresson: all the directors your cinema studies profs have been drilling into your heads for the last few years (and if you can still stomach them after all that, then you are to be commended).

If you have the time (often we don't) and the money (as students. we rarely do), I'd encourage you to see as many films as possible. But if I was going to recommend to you one film to see at Cinematheque this summer (and I say this with great hesitation, as many of my favourite films will be playing there), it would have to be Yasujiro Ozu's 'Tokyo Story'. Now, I'm sure there are many a cinephile out there that is groaning at this choice, given that the film just topped a critics list of 'greatest films of all time'. But if we can get past our cultural elitism (a disease that is positively rampant in this city), I think we can all admit what a beautiful, utterly human movie 'Tokyo Story' is, and how necessary it is to see such a film on the big screen (I've seen it at Cinematheque at least twice).

For a more qualified opinion, I quote Donald Richie, a Japanese film scholar whose writings on Ozu I don't fully endorse (I find his views on the essential nature of the 'Japanese tradition' problematic) but who nonetheless has the most sensitive appreciation for Ozu out of all the critics I've read on the subject:

'The end effect of an Ozu film - and one of the reasons that he is thought of as a spokesman for the Japanese tradition - is a kind of resigned sadness, a calm and knowing serenity which persists despite the uncertainty of life and the things of this world. It implies that the world will go on and that mutability, change, the evanescence of things, also yield their elegiac satisfactions.' - from 'Japanese Cinema' by Donald Richie

Not that Cinematheque needs our money (they have corporate sponsorship) and not that we can't go to Queen Video and rent most of these films ourselves. Nonetheless, I encourage all of you to choose one or two films from this summer's program to see. And being a Kurosawa fan (Kino-Eye's official mascot is, of course, Toshiro Mifune), I would be remiss not to encourage you to see 'Rashomon' or 'The Seven Samurai'. Classics, all.

Check out the full list of films offered this season at Cinematheque, as well as info on how to become a member, by clicking on this little link.

'Before I speak, I have something important to say.'

I assume a few of you are curious as to the origins of this blog's title, 'Kino-Eye'. Perhaps a few of the more clever students out there have already deciphered this cryptic phrase. If so, well done - your prize is the satisfaction of knowing that you truly are a film geek (and possibly a communist as well). For the rest of you, the answer is maybe more mundane than you might have hoped. 'Kino-Eye' is simply the name of a movie I happen to enjoy, by a director whose name I feel more sophisticated just by pronouncing, Dziga Vertov.

A friend of mine - himself a director - originally alerted me to the Soviet Dziga Vertov, specifically Vertov's film 'Man With A Movie Camera'. An amazing work, but a little too cumbersome to be the title of a blog. I opted instead for the title of one of Vertov's earlier works, 'Kino Glaz' ('Kino Eye'). It has a nice ring to it. More to the point, it allows us to imagine that we are that eye, redirecting the gaze of cinema (narcissistically, perhaps) back upon itself - in this case, the Toronto film scene.

But I think Vertov himself said it best:

"I am the eye. I am a mechanical eye. I, a machine, am showing you a world, the likes of which only I can see... My road is towards the creation of a fresh perception of the world. Thus I decipher in a new way the world unknown to you."

(Many thanks to my friend Kohei for supplying me with the quote.)

I don't pretend to possess the qualifications to write at length about early avant-garde Soviet cinema, but I will say that I find it immensely fascinating that some of the most innovative films ever committed to celluloid were produced under the watch of the 'Man of Steel', Joseph Stalin. But then again, it might not be so bizarre. 'Casablanca' is nothing if not a paean to America's Free-French allies during the Second World War. And of course, there is Akira Kurosawa's first feature, 'Sanshiro Sugata', itself intended by his producers to instill in a war-time Japanese audience the correct sense of 'Yamato damashii'. Perhaps the relationship between the (totalitarian) state and art is more symbiotic than we would like to believe.

If you're curious about this Vertov fellow, or maybe are in need of some time to kill while you should be working on an essay (and if so, shame on you), then head on over to Google Video where you can watch the entirety of 'Kino Glaz' for free (along with, as I've just discovered, a slew of classic Chinese films from the Nationalist period). Too lazy to search the site yourself? All right. Here's the link. Happy?

(With many thanks to Groucho M. for supplying the title to this post.)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Trash Palace: 'Toronto's Classiest Cinema'

If you're like me, then you love Suspect Video. Not so much for the movies that they rent but for the bins of discounted VHS cassettes they're getting rid of for three bucks a piece. If you get past the copies of straight-to-video Van Damme features and mediocre romantic comedies from the mid-'90s, you can find quite a few finds. I've managed to find copies of Ozu's 'Floating Weeds' and the Marx Brothers' 'Animal Crackers' and a lot more. It's actually getting to be a bit of a problem. I now have a stack of VHS cassettes in my living room that easily dwarf me and yet I don't have the time to watch them all.

So it was on one of my frequent trips to Suspect Video that I stumbled upon a beautiful flyer for something called Trash Palace. Advertising itself as 'Toronto's Classiest Cinema', it promised screenings of such lost gems as 'TNT Jackson', 'Force on Thunder Mountain', and 'Schizo' (which has the best tag line ever: 'Schizophrenia: When the left hand doesn't know who the right hand is killing!'), all said to be presented on 16mm film. But even more intriguing than the movies themselves was the warning printed on the bottom of the flyer: 'No walk-ins. Secret location. Address on ticket. Advance tix at Suspect Video. $5.' Clever marketing? Or indie elitism? I had to find out.

That night, I visited Trash Palace's website - - to see if I could dig up anything else about these screenings. But the website was as enigmatic as the flyer. Precious little information was provided about the screenings and the movies themselves. My curiosity piqued, I contacted by email the projectionist Stacey Case, requesting an interview, either by phone or in person. Less than an hour later I got a reply and we arranged to meet Tuesday morning at Wagamama cafe on King and Techumseh. Putting on a newly purchased copy of the Hong Kong soft-core flick 'Erotic Ghost Story 2', I set about writing a list of questions for Mr. Case.

I arrived late for our meeting, having forgotten my digital voice recorder in my apartment, and was worried that the interview would have to be cut short. Well, it wasn't. For an hour and a half, Stacey talked about the motivation behind Trash Palace, his love for grindhouse and drive-in cinema, the place of the collector in today's film community, Mexican wrestling, and hammocks. It was a joy talking to someone who has such obvious passion for what he does and hopefully this transcription of the interview communicates some of that same passion. (I apologize in advance for the length of the piece. Maybe it's just symptomatic of me being knew to this whole blogging thing, but I would feel quite bad if I cut out too much of the interview. I am, however, chopping the interview into manageable chunks so it looks less daunting and so people can tackle it in piecemeal fashion.)

So here it is, my interview with Stacey Case, founder of and projectionist for Trash Palace. Enjoy!

Trash Palace Interview: Part I - 'Everything drives my passion'

Kino-Eye: So how did you come to found Trash Palace and why?

Stacey Case: Well, I'm 39 years old, and this goes back to when I was three, watching Sunday afternoon monster movies while growing up on a farm on Niagra-on-the-lake - (watching) Abbott and Costello, 'The Hilarious House of Frankenstein' - just watching all this crazy stuff on TV. When I was ten I picked up my first issue of 'Fangoria' - that was in 1979, issue number four, 'Salem's Lot' on the cover - and I just knew that someday I was going to make movies. It took a while. I finished high school in '87. The Jackson Vocational Interact Survey answer all these questions and it guides you in your career path - maybe you want to go this way or take this in university or whatever. My parents though smart people become doctors or lawyers. When I got the results from the Jackson survey I was kind of heart broken because it said to go into something else and I wanted to go into movie and television production. But my parents wanted me to become a doctor or a lawyer, to go to university. But instead I fucked off and went to Vancouver, so I could just do my own thing, which ended up being booking bands - punk rock bands and stuff.

I moved back to Toronto in about '92 and started up a punk rock fanzine called 'Rivet', published sixteen issues or something. And through the course of 'Rivet', I began writing, illustrating, telling stories, and I realized the illustrating I was doing was actually storyboarding for films, and I didn't even realize it. But when I did realize, it took me back to when I was ten years old when I wanted to make movies. So I bought a Super 8 camera, some film, a two-track recorder, a Super 8 projector, wrote a short script, shot a short film (which) played at a few film festivals, shot another short film (which) got chosen for the Images Film Festival Best in Toronto showcase in '96/'97.

I've always been a fan of superheroes and monsters - I'm a comic book nerd. While I'm collecting vintage film equipment and learning how to use it, I discovered at ABC Books on Yonge St. and buy obscure film-making books. If you were to see my library at home, all of it would be film (related). By going to ABC Books and buying old film books, I found all these little boxes of Super 8 films for $7.99 a piece, all these condensed feature films from the '50s and '60s, like Peter Lorre's 'The Beast With Five Fingers', 'The Hideous Sun Demon' or it's British version 'Blood on His Lips'. And the packaging was really lurid and by this time I was already designing (my own posters) and I just started researching and collecting these old films. I started with 8mm and then picked up a 16mm projector.

At the time I was teaching art classes to little kids through the public library system and I got the Markham public library's 16mm projector, because I was working there and they had an AV room with nothing in it because everyone had sold off all the films because everyone was moving to video. But their old projectors were still there, so I bought them off of them. The 16mm projector triggered memories of being a kid and being in class and how the teacher would wheel in the projector and draw the blinds and we would watch a movie in the middle of the day, an educational film, and that was always one of my favourite parts of the day. Either that or running the mimeograph machine. I used to love hand-cranking the mimeograph machine. So I had a fascination with the machinery and the way you have a reel of film that you run through light and how it looks on the screen like motion but actually isn't, it's just (still) pictures. This stuff is just cool.

Before 'Nacho Libre' came out, I started shooting Mexican wrestling films, in '96. I shot eight films and I'm currently editing the final three. Shooting these films was basically my film school. They taught me pacing, timing, how to script a fight, how to draw emotion from an actor - all for 80 bucks a film. I went to work on A&E documentaries after shooting my second film because somebody asked me: 'Oh, you're a film maker. Do you know how to use video cameras?' And I just lied and said, 'yeah'. And they were like, 'OK, do you have a passport?' And I lied and said, 'yeah'. And they asked, 'Do you want to go work on an A&E documentary by yourself in France for a month?' And I said, 'yeah'. So I got everything together, got a passport, learned how to use the video camera, and fumbled my way into a career. And because I'm an old punk rocker, the footage I got there, no one else could have got. I lied my way into buildings - I was following the path of a murderer around for one of A&E's investigative reports, they had captured him and they were retracing his steps all over France and Ireland. And they were so happy with the footage that they hired me full-time. And all this time I was shooting Super 8 films, collecting films, doing my own stuff.

Everything drives my passion - collecting film, collecting lobby cards, collecting old exploitation film ads, all the promotional campaign material. Everything about it, I love, all the luridness of it, everything. I hate today's movie posters. Everything is too computerized. Back in the day, you'd have beautiful hand-painted posters. The illustrators for old movie posters were amazing. Nobody does that anymore. I just love a good ad campaign. I love the guy yelling at you - 'The Chinese professionals! Tiger Man! Rated R!' I fucking love that stuff. I love it so much that I collect it. I collect 16mm trailers for old films. And by collecting it all, it inspires me.I shot the first 500 episodes of You look at my CV and you see this path that I've taken and I've taught myself the whole fucking thing. I never went to university or anything, I taught myself everything. After working at Naked News, I got hired to direct a feature by a guy that wanted to make a Mexican wrestling film. And since I'm the Toronto expert on Mexican wrestling, I directed this film. Great experience directing it, but the aftermath was horrible. It was so bad that I left the business. Luckily over the years I have taught myself a trade, screen printing, which has allowed me to turn my hobby - screen printing - into my job while I figure out whether I want to get back into film.

Like, I like narrative. I like a beginning, a middle, and an end. I don't fit in with the film making community in Toronto because it's all experimental art films. I'm all about narrative. I want to see a guy and a girl, I want to see a mummy, I want to see topless girls - that's what I'm about, that's what I grew up on, that's what I like. I want to see monsters destroying a city, I want to see broken arms and blood flying around - that's what I like. And I like being subversive with that stuff, too, and thinking up all this crap that you'd never expect to see in a film like that.So I got out of the business. I directed a feature film and never got my directors cut, I never got to go into the editing suite, I got cut off from the film I directed. It's called 'Enter...Zombie King!'. It's Mexican wrestlers versus zombies, it's got gratuitous gore and nudity. The band I was in, The Tijuana Bibles, had 13 songs on the soundtrack. So all these things completely pissed me off because I feel like I got taken advantage of. I was like, 'if this is what it's like to direct a feature film, then fuck this. I'm going to turn my hobby into my job.'

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Trash Palace Interview: Part II - 'It's trash, but it's my fucking palace, man.'

SC: Trash Palace and collecting films has been my lifeline, the one thing that has kept me passionate about low-budget film making. So I don't spend a lot of money on the films that I buy. I've been buying these films for the last eight years - the Super 8s I've been collecting even longer, but I'm much more intrigued by the 16mm because they can be projected further and it can be hooked up properly to a sound system. I can get 16mm bulbs and belts for relatively little, so it's not that expensive of a hobby. I have something like 15 or 16 feature films and then a bunch of shorts. I'm very picky about what I purchase. And I have enough films now that it's time to share it.

I have a studio space. When I first moved in, I built a wall (in the middle of the room), so there wasn't enough room for me to screen a 16mm film and warrant charging someone money to watch it. But on a whim, three months ago, I was looking at that wall and I wondered, 'why did I build that wall? I got this space in order to show movies. Fuck this, I'm knocking it down. I'd rather knock down that wall and put a hammock, so I'd have somewhere to lay down when I'm tired.' So that's exactly what I did. An hour later that wall was down, dismantled, and out the freight elevator and into the fucking garbage. And someone owed me some dough at a place where I wholesale shirts out of, and I told them, 'don't pay me this time, give me one of your Mexican hammocks.'

So I put up a fucking hammock. And I pulled out my projectors and did some fucking tests and realized I had an eight-foot wide screen on my bare wall. So painted the wall and did some test screenings for friends and they were like, 'what are you going to call it?', and I said, 'I don't know, I gotta think about it'. Because my house is very clean, my wife likes a clean house and I like going home to a nice clean house. But my studio - I think it's nice and neat, but to outsiders it's full of trash. I go to Mexico City and purchase old Mexican wrestling masks and wrestling lobby cards, so I have all kinds of stuff in my studio. I take it out and I have a museum of the stuff I've collected over the years. The term Trash Palace has been used before, but I think it's an amusing term. It's trash, but it's my fucking palace, man. It's dedicated to all my film stuff. And I owe it to all the directors and actors that have ever been in these films that no one cares about.

And I mean it's the same with my film. If you IMDB my film, 'Enter...Zombie King!', eight people will have reviewed it - three think it's shit and the other five think it's genius. And that's just the nature of these films. It's like, what did you expect for $200 000? I mean, shut the fuck up and make your own movie - fucking critic. Make your own fucking movie. You have no idea. So to reinforce that concept to myself, I show these films and I get to defend them. And by defending them, I get myself back into the mindset of making my own films on my own terms. So Trash Palace is about defending the films that I love and getting myself ready to get back into the ring and make some more films.

KE: Well, you've managed to cover off quite a few of my questions already. This is good - it's much easier when someone else does all the work.

SC: Well, I didn't just wake up yesterday and think to myself, 'I'm going to start up Trash Palace'. This has taken ten years. Ever since I bought my first film at ABC Books, I was like, 'one of these days, I'm going to show this to somebody, I'm not going to sit by myself and watch them by myself, I'm going to share them with people because they'd be tossed out otherwise. I love it. The first screening we did was 'Sugar Hill'. We had eleven people. For 'TNT Jackson' we had six people. For 'Schizo' we had 22. For 'Force on Thunder Mountain' we had seven. I don't care if there's nobody because I have the films, I have the studio, I have the equipment, and this needs to be done.

I don't want people know where the studio is. And there's a couple reasons why I'm doing that, why I'm having it as a secret. One, I find it amusing, that I'm forcing people to go to Suspect Video to buy a ticket for a screening that they don't even know where it is. I just find that funny. It's my studio - if I want to have some fun at someone else's expense, that's fine. What I like are the people who go and get the ticket and show up and are like, 'this is fucking cool, man'. And I'm like, 'thanks'.

As a poster designer who is all about promotion, I get to make these posters and hand bills. I hand print them all. If and when you come by the studio, you'll see all the work that I've done. They're always on this stock of paper, they are always just one or two colours. I just enjoy making stuff.

The studio is only so big. I say that there is seating for 50, but that's with standing room only. Really, there's seating for 30. I don't want a line up. I don't want people waiting outside my building.

KE: Is that because you want everyone to be able to enjoy the film?

SC: Yeah, I just don't want it cramped in the studio. I want it so that everyone has a good time. It's a small experience, not a big experience. I don't know what's going to happen in the future. I have a few ideas of where it's going to go in the future, but I don't want to talk about that just yet.

All I know is that I marketed this 'Force on Thunder Mountain' screening all wrong. I called it the wrost film ever. I tried to screen it on two different occassions in my past but people just told me to shut it off because it was too boring. But in the Trash Palace, it's one of the greatest films ever. It blew my mind, and the seven people that were there were like, 'you are so wrong, this film is great'. And I was like, 'you know what, you're totally right, this is totally awesome'. I can't believe all the things you can enjoy about these bad films. Like, you just start wondering, 'what was the director thinking?'

And it's funny, because there are all sorts of film fans out there - some screen movies like this, others like this. I screen films like this. So when I'm changing reels, I throw on some garage rock and say to the audience, 'let's talk a little'. You know, serve a beer and, out of respect for the film, let's just sit back and enjoy the movie.

Going to the theatre now isn't the same. There's no movie experience I've had with which I've been a thousand percent satisfied. The Trash Palace is kind of like the way I want to watch movies. I want the projectionist to say before the show, 'I've got three short films - one's about this, one's about this, and one's about this. Which one do you want to watch?' You know, include the audience. I have two friends that help me - an MC and a snack bar guy. I don't do much talking - I'm rocking the projector. But between the three of us, it's like a fucking comedy act. It's just fun, funny and weird.

Trash Palace Interview: Part III - 'It's all about being classy about bad movies'

KE: Now, I'm going to have to back track a bit, because you brought up a lot of things that I want to talk about. You just mentioned that the experience you often get at the movies is somewhat lacking. And from the looks of it, from the ways that you publicize these events and keep the location of the screenings secret, you seem as interested in creating a cinematic experience as you are in simply presenting the films themselves.

SC: Oh, absolutely

KE: So what would you say that your screenings provide that Scotiabank Theatre doesn't? How would you describe the experience you're giving the audience versus just going to your local theatre?

SC: Well, there were five kids in my family and my parents would take us to the drive-in in our station wagon. They'd bring pillows and blankets. We didn't have a lot of dough so we'd buy popcorn but we'd bring our own cans of pop. My favourite place to watch the movie was on the hood or on the roof, you know, under the stars. The whole concept of unstructured cinematic viewing experience doesn't exist anymore. I mean, you could get up and walk around, you could stand up at the front and watch the movie. The cinematic viewing experience now is very regimented. You walk in, you buy your ticket, you get your snacks, and you go sit down, and all the chairs are the same. The only real choice you get is how far away you sit from the screen or how close you sit. And I understand that, because that's the nature of the mass-marketed film experience. You need to control it and appeal to as wide an audience as possible.

When I first moved to Toronto, I used to go to the Rio on Yonge St. and they'd show five movies for four bucks. And they always showed a horror, an action, a crime, a nudie film with all the sex cut out, and then probably another horror or else a kung fu film. There was barely anyone there during the day so you could lay down on the seats, put your feet up over the front seats. You could sleep - I'd watch the first few films, sleep through the next couple, then get up and watch the last film. With the Trash Palace, all those things come into play - not the sleeping, but I have 6X9 gym mats in the front that you can lay down on. Behind that are movie seats I just purchased, the ones with wooden arms. So if you want that experience, you can have that experience. If you want to seat in the folding chairs, you can have that experience. One person is allowed to lay in the hammock, so you can have that experience. You can stand in the back with me. There are all these experiences that you can have - there's not just one. And you have choices. I'll say, 'this is the feature, but what shorts do you want to watch before?' And I tell people after the movie, 'you're welcome to stick around to watch some more films'. And usually half of the audience says sure and we keep watching shorts until they've had enough of the experience or until I've had enough and I want to go out for a drink. It's about an experience, that's for damn sure, and I think people like that.

And there's room to talk during these movies, as long as you're quiet - there are conversations. People talk at the screen. That's what people used to do at the movies. People used to yell at the screen. If there was something going on in an exploitation film, people would yell, 'kill 'em! Kill 'em!' I remember that. People don't do that anymore. Now it's all about being silent and not bothering anyone else. I'm not saying that all theatres should be loud. But there's a sense of entitlement now - you pay your 13 bucks to see your movie and you expect peace and quiet.

There used to be a choice in cheaper films. Back in the day, there were different types of films being made for different types of audiences. So you had these kinds of films made for drive-ins, and these kinds of films made for the inner city, and you had these kinds of films made for the middle class, and these kinds of films made for the upper class. Now everything is the same - everyone can see everything. And everyone has to be quiet. Well, I kind of like how it used to be, how the upper class wouldn't go see a car crash film - the inner city would. And the inner city would react to a car crash film the way you should react - you'd yell at the screen. Now it's all the same, it's all been homogenized.

Now, I won't show a film if only one person comes. But if three people come, that's enough for a screening. And I think people appreciate the fact that this guy is forcing them to buy a ticket and on the ticket is the address where the movie is being shown - there are people that appreciate that.

KE: You mentioned going to the drive-ins with your parents as a kid, and going to the Rio as an adult, and those experiences refining your sense of what a movie-going experience should be. And looking over your flyers at Suspect Video and your website, it seems that most of the films are coming out of those eras - the era of the drive-in and the era of the grindhouse. So why do you focus on films from this era? Is it an attempt to recreate a sense of that era....

SC: No, it's not.

KE: ...or do you feel that films that are being produced today, such as the one you made, can't really compete with the ones that were made decades ago?

SC: No. My answer is going to be brutally honest. I'm married. I have a house, a mortgage to pay, car payments, a studio that I rent, a lot of things to pay for. I cannot justify spending hundreds of dollars on a print. The Trash Palace will never make me money. I'm not doing it for money - I'm doing it because I need to do it. I'm a collector and I'm fascinated by this stuff. The reason I have the particular films that I have is because people that sell them think that they're shit so they sell them cheap. That's my first rule: don't spend a lot of money.

Take a film like 'House of Wax' with Vincent Price. That would be in the $400 range. 'Frankenstein's Daughter' I got for $60. Now, they're both from the same era - 'House of Wax' is '53, 'Frankenstein's Daughter' is '58. I think because Vincent Price was in it, it would have been seen as upper class or middle class. So, as a collector, you pay middle class prices. 'Frankenstein's Daughter' was a drive-in film. I'm not seeking out drive-in films - I'm looking for what is within my budget. The types of movies that I'm willing to spend my money in fall into the genre of the drive-in film. Because people think that they're crap, I get them for cheap. I can afford these films. The films that I can actually afford happen to fall into this genre. Others films, like the educational shorts, they're kind of different, they're more reasonably priced. I'm far more intrigued by a film I buy for $40, a film no one knows about, then I am by spend ing $400 on something everyone knows about. I'm far more intrigued by something like 'Force on Thunder Mountain', which has only two reviews on the internet. And I have the movie and the colours are gorgeous, man. And I wonder, 'why was this made? Who were they trying to sell this to?'

Like, 'Doll Squad'. It's basically 'Charlie's Angels' and the director Ted V. Mikels, his whole oeuvre is corpse grinders, zombie films with lots of lurid ad campaigns. There's not a whole lot of substance to the films. But his love for these films shines through and drives these shitty films. The upper class would find it incredibly boring. Other classes would find all sorts of things to love about it. It's not exactly about collecting drive-in films. It's because people think that they're crap that I get them for cheap.

The most recent film I got was 'Plague 1978' also known as 'The Gemini Stream'. Shot right here in Toronto. I'm fucking stoked. The director is living in California. I just got in touch with the writer's wife and told her i just purchased a copy of the move and she said, 'why?' And I just said, 'because I find it interesting that what other people consider to be trash, I consider to be awesome. I'm sure it's one of the first films your husband wrote. He may not be proud of it, but I'm proud of it. I can't wait to show it. And I hope he'll be my guest.'
Ted V. Mikels found out about the screening of 'Doll Squad'. Wasn't happy.

KE: Really?

SC: Yeah. Which is interesting, because I purchased the print off of him six years ago for $128.

KE: Why wasn't he happy?

SC: Because he's not getting a cut. So I wrote him and said, 'I understand licensing fees are negotiable. May I begin negotiations? I have done four screenings. The first screening we had eleven people. The second screening we had six people. The third screening we twenty two people and the fourth screening we had seven people. That's an average of nine people a screening. Your film was a 'free to get in, pay to get out' feature. The cost to get out was $2. Using the average attendance rate, that's 2X9, that's $18. That's my offer.' I gave you the blunt version - the one I sent him was much nicer. I ended it by saying, 'sir, some things are done for love, not money. Kind regards, Stacey Case, projectionist, Trash Palace.' I sent that this past Sunday. I checked my email that night and he had written back. And I just mailed him a bank draft for $18.

KE: He wanted the $18?

SC: Yeah, and I completely respect him for wanting the $18. I've got a receipt for the bank draft and it says, 'Ted V. Mikels, $18'. And I keep all this stuff because I'm working on a fanzine called 'Trash Palace' and it's going to be all this stuff thats going on. Compiling reviews - my snack bar guy is writing a column, my MC is writing a column, Im writing stuff. And I'll just have a really cool fanzine. And if I really put my mind to it, it would be a dope book about this theatre. However, there are more shows to come. I want to have 26 shows, one every other Friday.
But I was very proud, and when he wrote to me, I wrote him back and said, 'look, I'm one of you guys, I'm a film maker too, I'm not just a collector. Here's my IMDB page, read the reviews. They're just like your reviews, bro.' He hasn't written back yet. But he will. I think I blew his mind.

You know, it's all about being classy about bad movies. They deserve good posters.

KE: Yeah, the posters are beautiful. Such obvious care went into designing them. Now, you say you're not just a collector...

SC: But I am a collector. But the type of collecting that I do is different. Everyone is a collector, really. My wife collects Wonder Woman stuff. I don't know, maybe there's something empowering about it. I guess I find what I collect to be empowering. Plus, I like having stuff.

Look, when I just moved here from Vancouver, I just had these shorts and my fucking leather jacket. I had nothing. I stayed in hostels and shit. That's how I know about the Rio - I used to pay four bucks to sleep in the Rio. I'm not a pack rat. I can give shit up.

Trash Palace Interview: Part IV - 'There are so many things you can do with a film and still have it be about a werewolf'

KE: I guess why I bring up your role as a collector is that you say that you're interested in buying up movies that no one else wants. Yet you have a profound respect for these films, as a collector, but also as a director. I mean, you've made your own films, you know what it takes to make one of these movies. So do you see yourself as an archivist? Do you see yourself as preserving these films for posterity? I mean, we have institutional mechanisms to preserve a Jean-Luc Goddard film, but no one is really interested in preserving 'Force on Thunder Mountain', right?

SC: No, not at all, you're totally right. There's other people in the city who collect films. And there's an element of altruism to all of us. If I didn't purchase 'Force on Thunder Mountain'. Like, public libraries threw out old educational shorts. I mean, I have this old short. 'The Boo-boo Monster'. And the people in the audience just loved it, their laughter was so joyous. And if I hadn't bought it, it would have just got thrown out. That's horrible. It deserves to live, it deserves to have people see it. It's such a disposable culture and we've made it so easy with DVDs and downloads that so much gets lost in the shuffle. I have to be very picky about what I collect. For me, it's not just about collecting films. I collect films because it drives my passion for making my own films. And there's tons of people in the city who collect films. There's Scary Ed who collects old educational shorts, there's Dion Conflict, Greg Woods, Colin Geddes from the Midnight Madness portion of the Toronto International Film Festival - each one has their own reason for collecting. I collect because it inspires my own efforts to make films. I love seeing how somebody else with a low budget pulled off something. Collecting is what gives me the juice for getting back in the ring to make my next film.

I love that no matter how good or bad a film is, it got made. That's all that matters. The rest is all talk. What matters is the reel of film.

Watching these movies is like going to school. When I talk to Ted Mikels, he's my teacher. I watch these films and they take me to school. I don't know how you watch a movie, but I can watch a movie and visualize the camera man and the boom mike operator. And that interests me. And you watch some of these films and you realize that there is a lot going on behind the surface. It's subversive.

KE: Yeah, I mean, you mentioned how you like to add that sort of subversive element to your own films, that you want there to be this layer to the film beyond the tits, guns and gore.

SC: Yeah, these films are never that simple. You can fuck around with gender roles. There are so many things you can do with a film and still have it be about a werewolf. Like, there's so many things yo can say in a film and still have it be this crazy fucking thing.

These films are generally just tits and ass and gore. I mean, I collect Super 8 condensed versions of these films. You ain't seen nothing until you've seen a ten minute version of 'Destroy All Monsters' - just action, no exposition. And I'm inspired by that. When I shoot a short film, I shoot it like it's a condensed film. I drive the narrative forward like a jack-hammer. It's not that I have ADD - I just love these condensed versions of these films.

It used to be that Hollywood films would be like 'Absence of Malice' starring Meryl Streep and Paul Newman. Now the Hollywood film is an exploitation film. 'Spider Man 3'? Exploitation film. 'Fantastic Four'? Exploitation film. The things that used to only be done in exploitation films are now being done with $300 million budgets and CGI. What makes Japanese films today so great is that there's no CGI, it's all masks and crazy fucking ideas. That's low budget film making. If and when you come by the studio, you'll see all these masks and props that I have. And those props write the movies I make. And I have a feeling that the next film is going to use all these props and it's going to be the greatest fucking thing ever. And when I'm done that film, I have another I want to do. I'm getting back into TV and there's a couple ideas that I've pitched to MTV in the States and I hope that project will fund my next movie. But you don't need to have a whole lot of money to make an enjoyable movie. You don't need CGI. These low budget films are quite endearing - I think of my own films as endearing.

KE: You say on your website that if you want to see a 'good' film, you shouldn't come to the Trash Palace.

SC: You know who I'm speaking to, though.

KE: Yeah.

SC: I'm speaking to those people. Like, my whole family would hate what I'm showing. But the people who show up to my screenings say, 'these are great films'. I have to use words like 'good' and 'bad' to show people that it's not high art. However, I have a respect for low art and what can be read into low art. What's a good film? If you went on line and did a poll of what is a good film, all the fan boys would say 'Fantastic Four' or whatever just came out. My criteria for what a good film is quite different from what most people would think was a good film. I mean, three quarters of those people (gestures to pedestrians outside the cafe) wouldn't like the films I show. I actually don't like using words like good or bad, but for people who don't know what I'm talking about, I have to use those words. I have to make it hard for people to come to these screenings because most people wouldn't want to come to these screenings.

KE: OK, so a few more questions. Could you briefly give your thoughts on Tarantino and Rodriquez' new film 'Grindhouse'. I mean, they were pretty blunt about their intentions - they wanted to recreate the sort of experiences they had in grindhouses back when they were young. Do you think this movie succeeds in recreating this experience or does it succumb to that homogenized film going experience you mentioned earlier?

SC: The only way 'Grindhouse' could have worked properly if theatres like the Rio still existed. You can't recreate this kind of experience for people who have only ever been to these homogenised theatres. If you've never been to a second-run theatre, you were actually confused by 'Grindhouse'. The scratches, the parts cut out of the movie - people thought it was terrible. In that sterile environment, people were pissed off but couldn't do anything. If you were in an actual grindhouse, the missing reels and scratched print were just part of the deal. And you could yell at the screen if you hated it. You can't do that in theatres today.
I mean, Tarantino's film, 'Death Proof', was just a Tarantino film. It wasn't a grindhouse film. It was just a classic Tarantino film - strong women getting revenge. In the revenge drama, I've seen 40 movies better than that film. 'Planet Terror', I actually enjoyed. Who cares why she can fire the machine gun that's attached to her leg? I believe it, I'm in. I like the leaps in logic in his film. His film, to me, was much more in keeping with what those grindhouse films were.
And as a genre, I think there should have been more nudity in both films. I've been studying grindhouse films for years. There should have been nudity. Fanboys were complaining about the lack of tits. The fact that the film made so little dough makes a lot of sense. You confused one half of the audience and let down the other half. I mean, what did you expect was going to happen, you dopes? They should have spent less money and gone straight to DVD, because that's where the grindhouse is now. Unfortunately, no one is doing anything intelligent in these films anymore.

KE: Now I'll just ask you one more question, as I know you have to go. What do you see as Trash Palace's relationship with other screenings, like Rue Morgue or the now suspended Kung Fu Fridays screenings? Do you think there is something that could loosely be defined as a Toronto film scene? Or do all these things tend to operate pretty much independent of each other?

SC: I think that there's a film scene, but I'm not part of it. I know the players. For me, it's different. You've heard all the reasons why I'm doing what I'm doing. I'm doing things for my own reasons. For me, it's not just about showing the movies. It's not just about uncovering some dope ass treasure and then bragging about it. That smacks of elitism. The people who collect and show films in town have their own reasons. We're not unified in any larger picture. We all have our own reasons. I'm not doing it to show off. The posters are an expression of my love for this stuff - but maybe the posters are showing off.

I do enjoy talking to these people, though, as there's a lot of stuff that we can talk about. I don't get to talk film with a whole lot of people, so I do enjoy talking to these people. I don't go to other screenings. Because I'm married, I have my own screenings, I have a life apart from this. I don't go to the movies often. If I do, it's with my wife. I'm all about narrative, I'm not an experimental film maker, so there's not a lot of film festivals for me to take part in. I mean, there's the After Dark Film Festival, but I don't have anything I want to screen now. I'm 39 years old, I've learned how to do all this on my own - that's how I roll.
But I'm looking forward to sending stuff out to festivals some time soon. And people like my stuff - it's funny. I remember going to Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal back in 2003 and screening 'Enter...Zombie King'. But before the movie, I screened some shorts, and one of them was called 'Squeegee Rampage' and it was about this wrestler versus these squeegee kids. And all the squeegee kids come from Montreal so to screen it there was awesome. And right from the first scene, which shows the squeegee kid pissing in his squeegee bucket, I had the audience, it didn't matter what happened, five minutes in, I fucking had them. And that's the best, knowing that you got them. That's a good feeling, man, that's a good feeling. So watching these types of films that I screen - they're not very good - but I know they got me. I believe - I'm a believer.

KE: Well, thank you very much for talking with us today.

SC: My pleasure.

* * *

Well, it's almost five in the AM. I've been up for the last five hours transcribing this interview and I'm pretty beat. I hope someone out there takes the time to read this interview in its entirety. Tall order, I know. But I wouldn't be putting it out there if I didn't think it was worth your attention. Remember to check out this week's Trash Palace screening of 'Frankenstein's Daughter' - doors open at 8:30 but tickets have to be bought in advance at Suspect Video (remember, you only know where to go once you've bought the ticket). Apparently, Stacey's come up with a drinking game to accompany the film. You know I'll be there.
Again, the Trash Palace website is

If you want to take Stacey up on his offer and check out his CV on the Internet Movie Database, here's the link.

And here's the link to the IMDB page for Stacey's film 'Enter...Zombie King'.

Welcome to the Panopticon

Kino-Eye has officially joined Facebook as a group! Just search for 'Kino-Eye' under groups and you should be able to find it. Hopefully this Facebook group will help assemble an informal staff of writers for the blog as well as serve as a message board for discussion related to the Toronto film scene. A few people have already expressed interest in writing for Kino-Eye. That's great - but even if you don't feel comfortable writing articles for the blog, you can always send me an email to alert me to people, events or anything else you think worthy of attention.

Many thanks again to my friend Peter for designing yet another logo for the blog.

Kino-Eye (Hearts) Twins

(These young women may look innocuous, but don't be fooled - they have a David Koresh-ian hold on their millions of devoted followers.)

Many of you have probably visited one of Chinatown's many DVD stores. You've probably picked up a few flicks. And, as you were paying, you might have wondered where all the DVDs came from - a residential basement somewhere in Markham? A factory in Kowloon? And how come they're so damn cheap? But really, you were just glad they were selling '2046' for the price of a Starbucks coffee.

The Chinatown DVD store has become a fixture of Toronto's video store community. Specializing in East Asian (primarily Hong Kong) cinema but increasingly branching out to include Thai and Filipino films, the Chinatown DVD store serves as a conduit through which we in Toronto may access the cinematic pop culture of Asia. If you're hungry for the latest mahjong comedy, Korean horror flick, or Japanese drama, you don't head to Queen Video - you head to Chinatown. Long before audiences were able to catch Jet Li's 'Huo Yuan Jia' (known here as 'Fearless') in theatres, the local Hong Kong DVD store was carrying an uncut, subtitled copy for the fraction of the cost of a movie ticket. I still remember taking the Greyhound bus up from London for day trips to Toronto back when I was in high school and planning my entire budget around my requisite trip to the Chinatown DVD store. There, I'd stuff my knapsack full of '80s heroic bloodshed and '90s New Wave wu xia flicks. Probably my best find was a rare VCD copy of Fruit Chan's first film, 'Made in Hong Kong', starring a young Sam Lee. (I lost it a few years back and haven't been able to find another copy since.)

Given how much we in Toronto owe these stores for introducing us to commercial East Asian cinema, I thought it appropriate to hit the streets and see if I could secure an interview with the owner of one of these stores. After being turned down no fewer than three times, I finally managed to find a proprietor who was willing to speak to me. His/her only conditions: that I preserve his/her anonymity and that of his/her store. Fair enough. With cops routinely shutting down DVD stores in Chinatown, he/she had a right to be wary of a white dude with a digital voice recorder.

Here's what he/she had to say:

Kino-Eye: So how long has this shop been in business?

Shop Owner: Five or six years.

KE: And how long have you worked here?

SO: Same.

KE: Is your clientele primarily Cantonese and Mandarin speakers?

SO: Mostly nowadays they are Mandarin. But a few are Cantonese.

KE: Is there a strong sense of community in Chinatown and, if so, do you feel you and this store to be part of that community?

SO: I'd say yes.

KE: Chinatown DVD stores sell movies at the price of 10 for $20, even 11 for $20. Is there strong competition among the various DVD stores in Chinatown?

SO: These days, there is a lot of competition, it's very strong.

KE: How do you decide which movies to stock and sell?

SO: Well, we stock the latest ones, and in terms of the older ones, we stock the blockbusters.

KE: What kind of films would you recommend to a person who is unfamiliar with Hong Kong cinema?

SO: Hong Kong movies are mostly comedy and kung fu or action, so I would recommend one of those (films).

KE: Toronto used to have a Chinese-language movie theatre that was owned by Golden Harvest but it closed down years ago. Do you think a similar theatre, if opened, could be successful today?

SO: I don't think so. Asian people don't go to the movies that much. They prefer to watch DVDs.

KE: Did you ever check out the Kung Fu Fridays screenings that used to be held at the Royal and the Revue theatres, the ones that would show classic martial arts films from the '70s, '80s and '90s?

SO: I heard about it but I never went.

KE: I was in Hong Kong in 2005 and Twins, Gillian Chung and Charlene Choi (see above photo and link), were everywhere - on the TV, on the radio, in the movies. They were like an industry unto themselves. Are they still ridiculously popular?

SO: Um, I'm not a fan of them but, yeah, they're very popular in Hong Kong and parts of China. They have a new movie out - 'Twins Mission'.

KE: Recently Celestial Pictures bought the rights to the old Shaw Brothers films and has set about re-releasing them on DVD. I notice you have an entire section devoted to these films. Are they quite popular and, if so, who tends to buy them?

SO: Yeah, they're popular. Mostly middle-aged people (buy them) because they like (movies from) the '60s and the '70s.

KE: Why do you think the Hong Kong film industry is doing so poorly these days?

SO: Because DVDs come out so quickly and people don't often go to movie theatres to watch (the movies).

So there you have it. Now grab some loose change and head over to Dragon City and pick up the latest Ronald Cheng comedy.

(If you want to learn more about Hong Kong cinema but don't know where to start, check out 'City on Fire: Hong Kong Cinema' by Lisa Odham Stokes and Michael Hoover or 'Planet Hong Kong: Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment' by David Bordwell. (Bordwell is actually in a bit of a feud with noted philosopher/social critic Slavoj Zizek. It's kind of like the Notorious BIG and 2Pac beef of the mid '90s, except it's between old white dudes without gats.) You might also want to head over to The guy who runs it reviews nearly every movie that comes out in Hong Kong. And I mean every movie - not just the latest Johnnie To flick, but even the Hong Kong version of 'Sweet November'. That guy has nerves of steel.)

Monday, June 18, 2007

It took a former paratrooper to save the Revue

Remember last summer when it seemed like every rep cinema in the city was closing shop? Well, here's a bit of good news for all of you who feared the Revue was going to be turned into a parking lot...

Many of you will have been aware of the campaign to save the Revue from demolition - a campaign headed by the Revue Film Society that managed to raise $30 000 (!) in the course of a few short months. (Check out their website at It was a valiant effort, but sadly not enough.

Well, one Liverpool-born Danny Mullin has rescued the Revue for the hefty sum of $954 000 (a steal when you consider the going price was $1.275 million) and lease it to the non-profit Revue Film Society. While $60 000-worth of upgrades are expected to be needed if the theatre is to open by the end of the summer (bake sale, anyone?), we can all be grateful that Mr. Mullin has taken it upon himself to preserve this piece of Toronto's heritage when no one else seemed willing or able. Leave it to the English to show us Canadians how it's done. Hopefully we can secure an interview with Mr. Mullin to get his thoughts on the Revue and the status of Toronto's rep cinemas. In the meantime, prepare for late August, when the Revue is slated to open again. And expect a retrospective on Kirk Douglas - I hear that's Mr. M's favourite actor.

Thanks to Second Cup for letting me steal last week's National Post from which I gleaned most of this information.

(On a side note: I was in Little Italy today, having a drink with a friend, when what did I stumble upon in the bargain-bin of Balfour Books but a copy of Andrew Fenady's cult novel about a man who undergoes plastic surgery to literally become Sam Spade, 'The Man With Bogart's Face'. I think this minor find bodes well for the site...)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

"All you need for a blog is a gun and a girl."

You have to be asking yourself: Does the world need yet another blog? And one on film at that?

Well, for starters, this blog won't be a place for me to wax idiotic about the latest flick I caught at the bijou. There are enough sites out there lending a critical eye to world cinema, written by people far more qualified to do so than myself, to justify adding one more to their ranks.

Then on what will Kino-Eye focus? Toronto's film scene. What do I mean by that? Well, it will include postings regarding...

  • revue theatres (a dying breed)

  • upcoming film festivals of all sizes (including calls for submissions)

  • listings for film screenings

  • meetings of local film clubs or associations

  • interviews with local film makers, video artists, programmers, film critics, or anyone else even remotely connected to the local film scene

  • talks by (local) film makers and scholars

  • student-run film projects

  • the launch of new film-related publications

  • film-related contests and events

  • anything else related to film happening in the greater Toronto area. (And I mean anything - from the latest offering at the Royal to whatever Reg Hart happens to be showing in his living room on a Thursday night.)
But the question remains: for whom is this blog intended? Generally speaking, anyone. More precisely, students. Perhaps I'm just projecting my own interests onto my peers, but I believe the majority of students at the University of Toronto, York, Ryerson, and OCAD genuinely enjoy watching films (films from the grindhouse, the arthouse, and anything in-between). Unfortunately, many are simply unaware that there is a world beyond the multiplex and Blockbuster. It's amazing how many students aren't even aware of Cinematheque - and that's pretty mainstream. This blog is for those students, the ones who have grown tired of the impersonal film-going experience dished out by places like the Scotiabank Theatre and who crave something more.

So how is this site going to work? Obviously, I can't do this on my own - I'm only one man, I need your help. So I encourage all of you to contribute to this blog. Send me interviews, articles, event listings, reviews of local cinemas or festivals, or anything else concerning Toronto's film scene. Ideally, I'll simply act as the editor of this site, posting the pieces you send me. So whether it's a heads-up concerning a screening you and your friends are having in your basement apartment, notification of the release of a new student-made film, or an in-depth interview with Bruce LaBruce (oh, do we dare to dream?), send it to me and I'll post it. It's that easy. This site will be what we make it.

So now you know what it's all about. Now it's your turn. Get your Jimmy Olsen on and hit up the cinemas, the video stores, the galleries, and the location shoots for the latest scoop. Then return here with your updates. To quote Ekin Cheng in the under-rated 1999 Hong Kong racing flick 'The Legend of Speed': "Sometimes you must step on the gas...and sometimes you must step on the brake. Now is the time to step on the gas."

Gun it!

(Many thanks to my friend Peter for designing the logo for Kino-Eye.)