Late last month at a press day for the re-opening of The Bloor Cinema – now officially known as The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, after the noted documentary festival that saved the building from being turned into another condo building – there was still some work left to be done. The concession stand had yet to be put in, the floors were still relatively dusty, and there weren’t even any doors yet. I really liked what I saw back at the end of February, mostly because the vibe of the old Bloor that I knew and loved was still alive in the building and nowhere near the gutting I had deep down feared, but it’s one thing to sit down and watch a bunch of presentations and another thing entirely to see it all in action. I resolved to write before getting the whole story; meaning eating a bunch of junk food in the balcony and watching a movie.
Upon arriving at the cinema for a screening of Racing Dreams (a really wonderful movie from director Marshall Curry about three young CART drivers in their very early teens with dreams of becoming NASCAR drivers) that was supposed to have the doors open at 5pm, I ran into a somewhat classic Bloor Cinema line-up as we didn’t get let in until about 5:35 with the line snaking around the corner of Bloor and Bathurst. It was oddly nostalgic, slightly annoying (as always), and very well staffed with volunteers every few feet on hand to answer questions.
It’s going to be interesting to see how ticket sales and concession stand lines shake out during the numerous festivals the building is bound to attract since two of the biggest aesthetic changes have occurred in these areas. The ticket booth, now located inside the building, really doesn’t seem very conducive to line-ups, especially if there are already two lines outside the building. As for the concession stand, it’s markedly smaller with very little room for a line.
The place where the concession stand used to be housed is now occupied by a really large window that allows patrons to look directly into the theatre before the film starts. It’s pretty neat and handy if you happen to be running a little late and want to grab a snack, and the curtain that closes during the film blocks all light from the lobby, but the line for the snack bar on the left side of the window is downright minuscule. But again, I’m sure there’s something in place that I’m unaware of to deal with crowds. My complaints really might just be things related to the growing pains any new or relaunched business goes through.
For what it’s worth the concession stand proves well worth a visit, with prices that don’t seem to have been raised since the old Bloor went under. Only this time, all drinks and popcorn come served in compostable cups and bags (on top of the whole building using Bullfrog Power). The corn’s fresh, the drinks cold, and now they also include treats from OMG Baked Goodness ranging from various popcorn and candy combinations to a “popped tart,” a butter tart that looks like a Toaster Strudel and has the icing of a Strawberry Pop Tart. It’s as delicious as it sounds.
Once inside the theatre, it’s nice to see that the general layout hasn’t changed a bit. There’s a fresh coat of paint on the walls that make the old lady shine, and the carpets still feel like stepping into a time capsule. There’s new semi-reclining seats on the ground floor that are considerably larger and cushier than the old red seats of the past. Upstairs in the balcony, things are even more unchanged, with the old seats still in place, but reupholstered and re-cushioned to make it match the lower bowl. Even the old two person loveseats still remain.
The new seats, combined with a higher and larger screen do create a problem for those on the floor. Mainly, if you are too close (meaning the first six rows or so), you’ll be craning your neck upward, and if you’re in the back under the overhang of the balcony, some of the screen will get cut off at the top.
There’s also a new, lower stage which is even more out of the sightlines of anyone in the lower half of the balcony than before, but there is a camera that projects onto the screen for those who can’t see the stage. It’s a nice thought, but even people who go to concerts go there to see the stage, and not to look at the screens unless they have to. The same generally goes for Q&As. It’s fine if you’re tall enough to see about two feet over the edge of the balcony, but for a short guy like me, it’s kind of annoying.
As for the film presentation, it was impeccable. The new Christie digital projector was clear and sharp for the film I watched, but you “purists” don’t need to worry as the theatre’s 35mm projectors have been totally overhauled and rebuilt from top to bottom. The new acoustic panels in the wall and 7.1 sound system worked wonderfully, but again, just like the old Bloor, if you’re in the balcony and someone is talking loudly downstairs, you can hear every word of it clear as day during the quiet parts of a film.
The one thing that absolutely can not be doubted, however, is the sincerity of programmer Chris McDonald and the entire Hot Docs staff. Their presentations really speak of people who want to create a real theatre for the community while forwarding the documentary based vision of their festival. As the Bloor turns 100 years old next year, it feels like they really could last another hundred years with the clean up that went into restoring the building. I’ll save my thoughts on the potential economic viability of a virtually all documentary cinema for another day since they haven’t even officially opened, but in the end, The Bloor is back. In an age where so many single screen theatres have been failing and closing, film buffs really can’t ask for a better story than this.