Mainstream movie-going is pretty straightforward: you pick a film, find out when and where it’s playing, then head out to the cinema.
But for those who want to escape that monotony, how about a secret film held in an undisclosed location, not revealed until 24 hours before the event?
That sense of excitement and discovery is what heritage-minded film programmers Ned Loach and Robert Gontier aim to achieve when they inaugurate 360 Screenings next Friday at a secret Toronto location. Kicking it up a notch, the venue will be divided into several areas detailing the film’s setting and will be populated by actors playing the film’s characters. Think Field of Dreams, screened off Sunlight Park Road, near the former site of Toronto’s first professional baseball stadium, with ghostly Shoeless Joe Jacksons wandering about. But if you screen it, will they come?
“It always starts with a film that we love in some way, so that’s the hook, but we’re hoping the experience goes beyond the feature,” said Mr. Gontier, who has brought the movie’s elements and nuances to a live setting. Before the film, the first two hours explores its universe; attendees can interact with the actors, play with props and learn more about the film. “We like the idea of our guests being extras on the film set,” he added.
While completing a masters degree in voice drama in England, Mr. Gontier learned of a similar series taking place in London. The pair were inspired to bring it back to Toronto after attending interactive screenings of Blade Runner and Wings of Desire.
Not content with simply re-creating what they experienced abroad, they decided to hold the licensed event in venues highlighting the city’s heritage. “We’re very passionate about Toronto’s architecture,” said Mr. Loach, who recently quit his job in order to focus on the project full time. “Our own spin is to breathe new life into these non-traditional cinema spaces and promote the city’s history at the same time.”
Keeping mum on location, they do admit it’s an early-20th-century building which once housed a department store and is now used as a loft space (zombie fans, take note: it’s not Dawn of the Dead). They’ve also partnered up with local businesses in the venue’s area and hope to bring the idea to other neighbourhoods, like the Distillery District, Rosedale, even open spaces like parks. “We’d love to do something at the Botanical Gardens,” added Mr. Loach, as Mr. Gontier nudged him not to reveal too much. Swamp Thing? FernGully: The Last Rainforest?
Working with a list of 50 films which included Amélie, Old Boy and This is Spinal Tap, the ultimate selection process wasn’t an easy one. “Finding a film that has a very distinct universe with very strong characters and narrative that people can recognize, it really narrowed it down,” said Mr. Gontier.
They also aim to steer clear of the camp that is The Rocky Horror Picture Show. “We want to be respectful of the film, not make fun of it,” said Mr. Loach.
Film has played an important role in their lives. For Mr. Gontier, it was The Goonies which first ignited his love of cinema; Mr. Loach recalled being struck by Jurassic Park. “It was so new and different,” he added. But Steven Spielberg’s dinosaur adventure was scratched from the list early on.
“Too ambitious,” said Mr. Loach – nor are there any velociraptors on the roster at Actors’ Equity.
360 Screenings takes place May 25. Tickets are $60 and available at 360screenings.com.
This article originally appeared in the Globe and Mail on May 18, 2012.