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.

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