Bloor Hot Docs Cinema “almost didn’t happen”

Hot Docs executive director Chris McDonald last night (March 14) recalled initially rebuffing Neil Tabatznik, financier at Blue Ice Group, when he proposed building a permanent doc cinema for his festival.
March 15, 2012

Hot Docs executive director Chris McDonald on Wednesday night (march 14) stood center stage at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto with his new landlord, Neil Tabatznik, and recalled the moment he inadvertently said no to a permanent home for his documentary film festival.

Last year, Tabatznik, a principal of film financier Blue Ice Group, approached McDonald about financing a documentary cinema in Toronto.

“I thought the idea was a little nutty,” McDonald told the capacity launch event on Bloor Street of his first impression. “But being Canadian, I nodded a bit, and then said something like, ‘Even if Hot Docs isn’t involved, we’d like to see it happen,’” he added, with his usual self-deprecating wit.

McDonald next remembered telling Hot Docs managing director Brett Hendrie that Tabatznik offered to buy the festival a permanent home, and he was pretty certain he turned him down.

The Hot Docs topper said Hendrie “rolled his eyes,” before recommending McDonald ring Tabatznik back to restart the conversation.

He made the call, and Tabatznik and the Blue Ice Group were soon talking to the Bordonaro family, the previous owners of the Bloor Cinema, who had long resisted investors looking to turn the cinema, a local landmark since 1913, into a condo development.

So, after endless meetings and extensive redevelopment of the Bloor to make it a home for docs, Tabatznik stepped forward Wednesday night to welcome the first 700 guests to the city’s newest cinema.

He paid tribute to the Bordonaros, who “only gave up custody of the theater when they knew it would stay a theater.”

Tabatznik added that, given the increased popularity of docs among cinema-going audiences, a cinema devoted solely to the factual genre was “an idea whose time has come.”

Tabatznik and Blue Ice Group partner Steven Silver (The Bang Bang Club) own the property on which the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema stands, and the Hot Docs festival is its sole tenant.

The documentary cinema will start public programming on Friday night, with screenings of the Sundance award-winner Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey, a film about Kevin Clash, who voices the popular Sesame Street character.

Photo: Joseph Michael


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Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.