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Landlords Attempt Hostile Takeover of Toronto’s Revue Cinema

Located in the Roncesvalles area of Toronto and a staple of the community since it opened in 1912, Revue Cinema is the city’s longest-standing movie house. But due to a current conflict with landlords, that may be about to change. In 2006, following the death of the previous owner, a non-profit known as Revue Film Society was formed with the mission of preserving the cinema. The new landlords at the time, Daniel and Leticia Mullin, were happy to offer leases to the non-profit for the last 17 years. But a few days before the last one was set to expire on June 30, after having been in negotiations since September of 2023 for a new 5-year extension, the Mullins informed the Revue Film Society board that they would be taking over running the theater.

Speaking to CTV News Toronto, Daniel Mullin said, “We want to get rid of the board, bring it back to private sector. It’s very simple. Why do we need the board? They’ve never done nothing. Every time we sign a new lease, they never fulfill the lease. They’re supposed to do work, do the seats; they never do nothing.”

To Toronto’s film community and even some outside of it, this couldn’t be further from the truth. A petition on directed towards seeking the help of Councillor Gord Perks, MPP Bhutila Karpoche, Mayor Olivia Chow, MP Arif Virani and “any/all elected representatives who care about Toronto” has already garnered over 20,000 signatures and been boosted by Academy-Award-winning filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro, who has worked in Toronto many times and is a known patron of the cinema.

In a chat with IndieWire, Revue Film Society board member and treasurer, Marc Priestley, said that the non-profit acted quickly to stop the Mullins from their intended plans. He told IndieWire, “We believe that we have a legally enforceable right to extend the lease and remain in the cinema. So we filed to request an injunction from the superior court in Ontario to prevent any eviction. And then, on an emergency basis, on June 28th, a judge issued an injunction that prevented our landlord from evicting us and taking over the space. Just today, an additional order was granted that will keep the injunction in place until the end of October, when we will have a hearing to go over this matter.”

Priestly also went on to “firmly disagree” with the Mullins’ assertion that Revue Film Society hasn’t been abiding by previous lease agreements, stating that even though the building wasn’t theirs and therefore not their responsibility to maintain, they’ve done so anyway for the good of the institution.

“We spent over half a million dollars improving essentially someone else’s building over the last 17 years to improve the experience,” Priestly shared with IndieWire. “We’ve renovated the lobby, we’ve renovated the cinema, we’ve installed new digital projectors, we have new ticketing systems. We’ve done wire upgrades. We’ve replaced plumbing that’s over 100 years old. We think we’ve done a huge amount of work to improve the cinema.”

At a time when more and more independent cinemas are forced to shutter or become swallowed up by huge conglomerates, the value in a landmark like Revue Cinema becomes exponential. It is an institution that prides itself on community over profits, with staff at the theater sharing in a post on Instagram, “We, the staff and management, believe that the Revue Cinema should remain a non-profit, community-run cinema. The Revue Film Society has operated the cinema for the past 17 years. Under their stewardship, the cinema has become the success it is today, with programming that brings a diverse audience together. This is not just a cinema; it is a place of community for audiences and everyone involved. We stand in solidarity with the board and do not wish to see the cinema turn into a for-profit private business.”

However, according to Priestly, making money has really not been a problem. Many of its screenings are sold out in fact and none of its current issues have come about from an inability to pay rent. He added that, while the Mullins believe they could take over and the staff would stay on, he believes that not be the case. Even items like projectors would have to be removed as they don’t belong to the landlords.

“Really the reason we sell out isn’t just because we’re in a prime location in a great part of Toronto. We sell out because of the work of our staff and the intellectual property and the social media that we built. And none of that would go over to a new landlord. They would have to start from scratch,” Priestly said. Discussing the allure that Revue Film Society has built up around the theater, he added, “When you live in a big city like Toronto or Los Angeles and it’s very expensive and it can be very inconvenient and there’s lots of cons as to why you would want to live in one of these places, but a reason you’d want to live in one of these cities is because of stuff like the Revue.”

In fact, Priestly shared, other businesses in the area also thrive off the success of Revue Cinema, like the nearby home video company Vinegar Syndrome. Founded in 2012 in the U.S., many consider it to be the Criterion Collection of B-movie, grindhouse, and X-rated films. It has physical storefronts within the U.S. and when it decided to open one in Toronto, the company wanted to be right near Revue.

“They told us quite explicitly, the reason that they picked their location across the street from the Revue is because it’s across the street from the Revue,” Priestly told IndieWire. There’s this enormous synergy between our client base, between our customers and our patrons. So we’ve actually been partnering with them a lot to do special programming.”

It seems that if Revue Cinema and Revue Film Society have done anything wrong, it’s that they’ve become too successful. So successful in fact, that others, now, want to cut in. While the long-term future of Revue Cinema remains up-in-the-air, in the short term, they’re going to keep doing what they do best: showcasing cinema and bringing people together. However, with legal expenses rising and potential future challenges ahead, donations are extremely appreciated and can be made directly on its website.

Source: CTV News Toronto, IndieWire