The Revue, Toronto’s oldest operating movie theatre, turns 110 this year

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The Revue, Toronto’s oldest operating movie theatre, turns 110 this year

As a child of the ’80s, Serena Whitney wasn’t babysat by a local teen or kindly relative: her faithful companion during these formative years was the VCR. “And that’s where my love of film began,” she says. Whitney adored the goofy genre films of that era, watching “Weird Science” every night after dinner for two straight years.(Seriously.)

Once she grew up, she paid the bills with SEO and social-media gigs, but her heart was always at the movies. She freelanced as a film critic and tried her hand at screenwriting, and in 2018 headed to the Revue in Roncesvalles, Toronto’s oldest operating movie theatre, to start the screening series Drunken Cinema, a rollicking monthly film event that showcases cult faves like “Road House” and “The Lost Boys” with an interactive twist to enhance the viewing experience. It took off immediately (and has since expanded to Montreal, Ottawa and Kitchener).

When long-time Revue programming director Eric Veillette stepped down at the end of 2020, he tapped Whitney to help steward the theatre through the seemingly never-ending closure during lockdown. Whitney got to work, brainstorming fun ways to bring in revenue, even if the theatre couldn’t show movies. “In its 110-year history, The Revue has already survived one global pandemic,” Whitney says, “and it’s currently surviving an ongoing one.”

How did she do it? She worked with distributors to rent out independent films via the Revue’s website and hosted virtual screenings. “We also hosted virtual tweet-along fundraisers, sold merchandise and membership support packs and opened our concessions stand for pickup or delivery every weekend for eight months.” The theatre also hosted a seat-naming fundraiser, selling naming rights to all the cinema’s seats in just a few days.

The highlight for her? The popcorn-pickup regulars. “Every weekend they would support us,” she says, “come rain or shine.”

Whitney made her official debut as programming director when the theatre reopened to the public last fall. Patrons flocked back to their favourite film series, like Dumpster Raccoon (which combines funny films with wild live performances), Designing the Movies (all about art direction and fashion), We Really Like Her (spotlighting strong women) and Silent Revue (Toronto’s longest-running repertory film series). “What makes our special events and series unique and fun is that they each bring in diverse audiences from all over the city and involve interactive elements and commentary you can’t experience at the multiplex,” Whitney says, “and we take much pride in that.”

Even though theatres have temporarily closed again, Whitney remains hard at work, piling up Revue merch and restocking the concession stand. Like that of Bogie and Bacall, the love affair between the Revue and its audiences burns brightly.

“Many may say that movies are a form of escapism, but if the past two years have proven anything, it’s that movies also provide a much-needed form of connection,” Whitney says. “Until the lockdowns happened, I don’t think we realized how much we took for granted the joy we get from the collective experience of watching films on the big screen. With so much uncertainty looming, the filmgoing experience is more treasured than it has ever been.”

This content was originally published here.