This coming Tuesday 4th June, THE REP will be having it’s European Premiere at London’s finest independent repertory house, The Prince Charles Cinema.
The documentary highlights the dwindling industry of indie and rep cinema in a time of home video and sweeping multiplexes, through the highs and lows of the first years of business at The Toronto Underground Cinema. For a film and cinema-lover, it is a heart-wrenching and inspiring glimpse into the state of independent cinema at the moment. THE REP director, Morgan White, very kindly took some time to talk about making the film, explaining the controversy over 35mm, and indulging in his ultimate revival double-bill.
Did the conversion from web series to feature doc come naturally? It seems like it makes a lot of sense for The Rep to be in this format, because you’re now able to release it theatrically.
The whole idea behind the web-series was to create small behind-the-scenes look at events the theatre was having, while having fun with it. They were never meant to be serious at all. After about a month of filming I realised I had so much other interesting footage that wouldn’t really fit in the web version. Footage that showed the realities of what it means to run a cinema, the stresses the guys were feeling, and the nature of the cinematic experience of The Underground. I liked all of that stuff, and in fact found it far more interesting, so I decided that I’d do a feature. It was never a very conscious decision, but one that happened naturally out of the story that was unfolding. I saw an opportunity, and I went for it.
So, was it always the plan to offer the film to independent cinemas for free
That was a decision that I had been mulling over in my head for a while. Ultimately it stemmed from the fact that the film is about the preservation of these theatres, and I felt wrong asking a theatre for a license fee (all films are rented based on a license fee). I thought that it would be better to just offer it up for free. It’s my small way of giving back, and it’s really worked well.
Obviously the film stems from your personal passion for a true cinema experience and love for film (which you share with Alex, Nigel and Charlie), as well as others who will go and see the film without much persuasion. Do you think that a wider audience can appreciate the struggles of repertory and independent cinemas?
That’s tough to say. When I was in New York interviewing Bruce Goldstein, who runs Film Forum, and he asked me the same question. “Do you think anyone’s gonna care?” My only response was, “I certainly hope so, or else what’s the point?” That was well over a year ago, and now that the film is finished and out there I’ve gotten emails from folks who have gone out to see The Rep in their town, and their responses have been great. Most people have no clue what happens behind the scenes of a rep house, or any cinema for that matter, so it’s an eye opener for film fans to see what it really means to run a cinema. Many of them have told me that they will frequent their local indie theatres more, and that’s the greatest response I could ever hope to get! I think ultimately everyone is attracted to passion, and that’s what the film, its characters, and all of these cinemas represent, so with that I think people will appreciate it. I see the film as a bit of a call to arms, and so it’s really up to the audience to decide if they want to cast a vote and support their local cinema!
What is, or where was, your most memorable rep cinema experience?
I wasn’t lucky enough to grow up in a town that had a rep cinema, or even an independent cinema. When I moved to Toronto for College I heard about a screening of George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead happening at The Bloor (a cinema here in TO), and that they would be screening the director’s cut. I had never heard of something like that before, as I was used to the multiplex experience. I remember showing up, having never been to The Bloor, and siting in the old theatre with about 300 other crazy zombie fans, and loving every single moment of it! People were talking at the screen, laughing, and cheering when a new kill happened that wasn’t in the previous version. It was electrifying! From then on I was a regular at The Bloor, which funny enough was being managed by Nigel and Alex of The Underground. I didn’t know them at that time, and had no idea that our paths would one day cross.
What’s your ultimate repertory double-bill?
That may be the hardest questions I’ve ever had to answer! Curating a double bill is a very tough thing, and it’s a very personal thing too. I have an affinity for films that I loved as a kid but never got to see on the big screen. As a kid I would devour films from my local video store, and I do understand the irony in this statement, but it was like my rep house growing up. Two very influential films that I’d love to screen back to back, but more so for my self than anyone else, would be The Goonies and Star Wars. The Goonies was the first film I was allowed to stay up past my bedtime to watch on TV, and Star Wars should speak for itself. I’ve seen The Goonies once on 35mm, and it was like watching it for the first time. I was transported back to being a 10 year old. As for Star Wars, I’ve seen it once on the big screen, but in it’s inferior 1997 version. I’d love to see an IB Tech print from 1977. IB Tech prints were made in England, and used a special type of dye that doesn’t fade, so the prints looks as good now as they did back in 1977. There are only a handful of them in the world, mostly in the hands of private collectors, so the chances of me getting that chance is slim, but one I really hope to experience some day.
A lot of filmmakers talk about the pivotal moment when they knew they wanted to make films – do you have one or has it slowly crept up on you through years of movie-watching?
When I was a kid I wanted to be an archeologist. I was obsessed with ancient things, and ate it all up. I wanted to be Indiana Jones. I think that’s really where it all came from. I was the kid that would spend hours watching movies, consuming anything I could get my hands on, so the language of cinema is a part of me. When I was 16 I got my first summer job, and I spent all of my money from that summer on a camera, as I had a notion it would be fun to have one. I would make silly little shorts with my friends, and I think that’s really where I realised I could do this as a job. From there I went to college for film, and now I work for a TV production company. Film has always been – and will always be – a huge part of my life. It changed me, and formed me in to the person I am today, and I couldn’t imagine not being involved in it.
There’s been a lot of talk recently about 35mm film studio archiving and saving this analogue format, like Julia Marchese of The New Beverly with her forthcoming film, Out of Print, and her Save 35mm petition. How do you feel about 35mm?
The love of 35mm is a really hard thing to someone who doesn’t get it. To me it adds a warmth, and a sense of presentation to the screening. Also, I feel like if the film was shot on film then that’s how it should be projected. There is something vastly different about light passing through a 35mm frame, than the light projected off of a digital sensor, but ultimately does it matter? The film is still being shown. The digital convergence makes perfect sense from a business standpoint, with studios saving 1 billion dollars a year by not striking and shipping prints. What is troubling is that theatres are being forced into the conversion to digital without any aid, and many will not be able to come up with the money to do it. That, to me, is heartbreaking. I love 35mm, collect 35mm, and seek out 35mm screenings, but sadly I’m in the minority. Thankfully there are collectors and cinematheques who will keep prints on hand so that the experience of 35mm won’t entirely die out.
What’s next for you, are you working on anything at the moment or just concentrating on getting The Rep out there?
I have a couple of projects I’m mulling over in my head, but my real focus is getting The Rep out there. It’s become a second job just getting the film out there and shipping screening packages off and such, not that I’m complaining!
Finally, The Rep will be having it’s European premiere at The Prince Charles Cinema here in London! How did this come about and how do you feel about holding it there?
I’m honoured to have The Rep make its European premiere at The Prince Charles. When I was working on the film I wanted so badly to go to London and film there, but my budget sadly didn’t allow me to. The Prince Charles is one of the last great bastions of repertory cinema in the world, and I’m grateful that they exist. The programming they do is phenomenal, and the fact that they’ve decided to programme The Rep is both humbling and exciting.
THE REP will be screening at The Prince Charles Cinema on Tuesday 4thJune, followed by a panel discussion and Q&A with some influential London-based film programmers. Tickets are £7 or a super-bargain at £2.50 for members, available here. Spread the word! Support independent cinema!