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Exclusive: Hot Docs to expand Bloor cinema with second screen

(UPDATED) After launching its own Toronto-based cinema in 2012, Canadian festival Hot Docs plans to expand the venture by adding an additional 50-seat screen, via a smaller second venue. (Pictured: Hot Docs exec director Chris McDonald)
January 8, 2013

After launching its own Toronto-based cinema in 2012, Canadian festival Hot Docs plans to expand the venture by adding an additional 50-seat screen, via a smaller second venue.

Hot Docs opened the doors on the refurbished, 727-seat, single-screen Bloor Hot Docs Cinema in March 2012, after receiving funding support from the Blue Ice Group.

Talking to realscreen, Hot Docs executive director Chris McDonald (pictured above) said: “One thing we’re looking forward to is expanding the cinema and opening a second, smaller venue at the Bloor – a small, 50-seat, state of the art second venue, based on the success of what we’ve done so far.”

He explained that the old vaudeville theater has an unoccupied, five-story “fly tower” located behind its main screen, which the Hot Docs team plans to renovate as a 50-seat digital cinema. “We would effectively double our number of screens,” McDonald said.

“We had almost 150,000 people through the doors of the Bloor in the nine months it’s been open, and most of them are seeing docs – so that’s good news for filmmakers and producers.”

The expansion is currently in the pre-planning stage, with no timeline set for the project as of yet.

While¬†McDonald characterizes the Bloor’s first year of operation as a success,¬†he said that running a cinema has been a learning experience for the festival team.

“We’ve learned that programming a cinema is very different from programming a festival,” he said. “Festival films don’t necessarily do well in the cinema, and vice versa. We’re having a harder time finding an audience for heavier, more serious material than we would at the festival.

“We’re averaging roughly 90 people per screening which is very good; we had forecast about 40, or something like that.”

One concern proving unfounded so far is whether there would be the “depth of product” available that would make running a theater viable. “We asked ourselves, are we going to be able to find enough content to run a cinema 365 days a year? And the answer is a resounding yes – there are plenty of good films that we’re not even able to find space for in the calendar,” said McDonald.

The 2013 Hot Docs festival takes place in Toronto from April 25-May 5.

Clarification, 12.50 p.m. EST: This article originally stated that Hot Docs hopes to lift the curtain on the second venue this year, however a Hot Docs spokesman has clarified to realscreen that the expansion is still in the pre-planning stage, and no timeline is set for the project at present.

  • An extended interview with McDonald appears in the January/February 2013 edition of realscreen magazine, publishing later this month. Not a subscriber? Click here for more information.
About The Author
Meagan Kashty is an associate editor of realscreen, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Meagan is an award-winning business journalist. Prior to joining the realscreen team, Meagan was online editor of Canadian Grocer, named Magazine of the Year at the 2015 Canadian Business Media Awards. She can be reached at mkashty@brunico.com, and you can follow her on Twitter @MegKashty

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