Movie House of Worship: Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox

By  · Published on September 16th, 2012

“Movie House of Worship” is a regular feature spotlighting our favorite movie theaters around the world, those that are like temples of cinema catering to the most religious-like film geeks. This week we look at a currently relevant but always excellent movie house in Canada. If you’d like to suggest or submit a place you regularly worship at the altar of cinema, please email our weekend editor.

Name: TIFF Bell Lightbox

Location: 350 King Street West, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Opened: September 12, 2010, as the official hub and screening venue for the Toronto International Film Festival, as well as the home for TIFF programming and events throughout the year. The theater is located in and part of a newly constructed complex.

No. of screens: 5

Current first run titles: For the past ten days, the 2012 festival has naturally monopolized the theater’s screens, but starting Friday, September 21st, there is Beasts of the Southern Wild, Tabu and the new Canadian releases Laurence Anyways and Rebelle.

Repertory programming: While often featuring typical one-off repertory screenings, the Bell Lightbox most notably (and amazingly) programs series based on a theme or a filmmaker. These curated series cover everything from canonized auteurs like Nicholas Ray and Henri-George Clouzot to renowned animation via The Films of Studio Ghibli to ridiculous, mainstream fun via The Cinema of Nicolas Cage and The Rise of Beefcake Cinema. This fall, the theater will offer series focusing on Charles Dickens, villains, the post-apocalyptic genre and Halloween movies, as well as highlights of the works of filmmakers Werner Schroeter and Nicolas Pereda.

Special Events: In my book it’s hard to top this year’s Hitchcock Master Classes with Guillermo Del Toro, but the Bell Lightbox also organizes series like Food on Film and Science on Film, which bring in experts to provide professional context to movies and invites filmmakers to talk about their own films or others’. Recently James Ivory discussed Remains of the Day and Hitchcock’s Rebecca. And Mia Hansen-Løve reflected on her own movies. In the next few months, zombie film director George A. Romero will talk about his works and host a screening of Michael Powell’s Peeing Tom and director Vincenzo Natali will give a Master Class on David Lynch’s Eraserhead. The theater also has an exhibition space they’ve used for cinema exhibits on Grace Kelly and Game of Thrones, among others. This season it will highlight Canada’s own David Cronenberg, and starting October 26th, it will be home to the exhibit Designing 007: 50 Years of Bond Style, which will naturally be paired with a variety of James Bond film screenings and events.

Why I worship here: There’s nothing quite like an actual, honest-to-goodness movie ticket in my hands that reads “Jaws” or “Children of Paradise” or “Rear Window” to fill my cinephile heart with geekish glee. Being able to see those kinds of movies the way they were meant to – on the big screen – is not something I would have ever dreamed I’d get a chance to do. It also helps that the building is stylishly modern, and the individual auditoriums are comfortable and gorgeous. What’s more, the crowds are incredibly respectful of the films they are watching. The Bell Lightbox is, from the audience right up to the organizers, a place that appropriately respects and loves cinema of all kinds. I worship at the Bell Lightbox because it actually is a place of cinematic worship in a way that not many theaters are.

Why you should worship here: The programming. Every time they announce the next season’s programming I get excited to see what will be offered, the same way people do over the announcement of the latest iPhone. It’s a testament to the amazing work done by head programmer Jesse Wente and his team that this theater pretty much has something for every kind of movie lover. It’s hard to imagine another theater where you could see The 400 Blows, Con Air, The Muppets Christmas Carol and Melancholia all within the same year. That’s to say nothing of all the remarkable filmmakers and speakers brought in to illuminate and discuss the films.

Recent screening of note: I want to cheat and say Lawrence of Arabia, because it remains one of the greatest cinematic experiences of my lifeut I actually saw that as part of the theater’s 2011 Summer in 70mm series. That’s not really recent. While seeing Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt and hearing Guillermo Del Toro talk about it was an obvious highlight of this year (hell, ever), I think the screenings of Otto Preminger’s River of No Return and Joachim Trier’s Oslo, August 31st stand out as perfect examples of why I love the Bell Lightbox. The latter, because it was proof that seeing a classic film on the big screen can make you completely re-evaluate it. The former, because it’s the best movie I’ve seen this year and not the kind I would have easily found in my local multiplex.

Devotion to the concessions: I have adopted an initiative to eat theater popcorn less – because apparently there’s a “theory” that it isn’t so healthy for you – but accidents happen, and sometimes my cash somehow ends up in the drawer of a concession stand, and popcorn ends up in my mouth. The popcorn is good but not all that different from that of the bigger theater chains in the city. They also have some baked good options. Ultimately I prefer to nourish myself on the movies here – not the concessions.

Last word: While I’m perpetually sad that the chances of Toronto getting an Alamo Drafthouse are slim, there are times I think we might not need one with the Bell Lightbox around. That may be the greatest compliment I can pay it. It’s the kind of place that can make a cinephile think, “Yeah, this is where I belong.” It’s the perfect venue to see classic or a more-obscure movie you’d never think you’d see in a theater or to see the kind of independent and foreign cinema you’d normally have to wait to see on DVD, if at all.

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