We all have those movies from our youth that have stayed in our soul since the very first consumption on a cable movie channel or from a worn out VHS. It’s rare that we are afforded the opportunity to view these films the way they were meant to be seen, on the big screen. Thanks to a handful of independent, repertory theaters around North America, this dream can be a reality.
Morgan White’s new documentary, “The Rep,” follows three friends, Nigel Agnew, Alex Woodside, and Charlie Lawton, as they venture into opening a rep cinema in Toronto, Canada. While Toronto has the most film festivals in the world, it isn’t a city that is overflowing in cinema history. In 2004, the largest chain of independent cinemas closed their doors, and overnight the film culture was lost.
This became the driving force behind Agnew, Woodside, and Lawton starting their rep theater, The Underground Cinema. After seeing the space for a single screen theater up for rent, they knew “there was a big void of serious retro content in the city, that this was something that was dying fast. We didn’t want to see that go away,” Woodside explains.
What film fan would not want to open a rep cinema? Opening and running a theater is every film fan’s dream, especially one that would show the movies that one never had the chance to see on the big screen. For these three fans, it was a logical choice to open a theater, especially since they, as Agnew put it, “had our wish list of movies we’d love to play” in a theater.
This is where White enters the picture, who had originally planned to film a narrative that took place in a theater. As White explains, “I had a meeting, and pitched the idea of a fun semi-scripted web series where you show the inner workings of a theater. Through that process I realized there was a much greater story that I could ever tell in a web show and that’s where the idea for the documentary feature came.”
They had become friends through the course of the web series development, so the decision to switch gears from a narrative to a documentary felt natural to all those involved. “It didn’t take long for us to develop a trust with Morgan. When he said he wanted to do that (the documentary), I don’t think any of us had any serious reservations about being put onto film by him,” Woodside commented.
Lawton adds that White had been there from the beginning, and that he would blend into the background, that they “stopped noticing him being around with a camera.” The familiarity White was able to establish with these three friends proved to be beneficial.
He was able to explore the trials and tribulations of these entrepreneurs. The audience is able to witness the struggles these independent theaters go through to stay open, and the strain this can put on ones who are trying to keep this art alive.
It isn’t long in the documentary that the business side of the venture took a backseat to the real goal of the theater. The Underground was about preserving the film experience, allowing films to be seen the way they were meant to be seen.
Film can impact your life in many ways, including the unexpected. There is a powerful part of the film that shows this impact, how film literally saved someone’s life and rejuvenated their spirit.
It’s this film force that White admired about The Underground, and all repertory theaters. “Having a shitty day, then walking into a movie with a bunch of people who you don’t know and experiencing something collectively is a life changing event. Whether it’s a small or big event, it means something to you,” White professes.
The mission of “The Rep” is to show the importance of these types of theaters, and to indeed keep the art of cinema houses alive. There is a magical escapade that happens in the darkness of a theater, one that must not be forgotten.
Through the brave souls who decided to help save a dying art, “The Rep” awakens the film fan in all of us. The purity of the influence that cinema has on one’s self is something that sticks with us, well after the credits have rolled.