May 7, 2012

Did You Ever Hear The Words, Blue Sunshine?

Cinema closures are an unfortunate trend these days. Whether it’s a multiplex or a micro-cinema that caters to marginal tastes, it appears that the future of theatrical venues is in jeopardy, as they fall prey to lower attendance, higher operating costs and the redevelopment machine. As Toronto reels from the sudden news that the Festival darling The Cumberland shuttered its doors for good this weekend, cult film fans in Montreal are counting down the days before Blue Sunshine closes.

Founded in 2010 by programmers Kier-La Janisse and David Bertrand (and named after one of my favourite cult movies), Montreal's Psychotronic Film Centre / Home of the Miskatonic Institute, is a dream destination for anyone whose interest in cinema journeys beyond mainstream releases into more outrĂ© territory: horror films, music documentaries, vintage cult favourites and a generous helping of Canadian genre films are just some of the tantalizing goodies offered in Blue Sunshine’s schedule.

Within the past 24 months, Billy Jack, Sugar Hill, Strange Shadows in an Empty Room, Melody, The Alien Factor, Lemon Popsicle, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, and Kriminal, have been among the titles presented at this cinema, often in 16mm. Their tastes shame even the cult film programming in beautiful (cough!) downtown Toronto. In addition to the psychotronic movies being screened, their self-styled Miskatonic Institute would also feature lectures and workshops about cinema to ensure that these works remained alive for future generations.

My fellow programmers at Trash Palace (whose own days are numbered, by the way) had a strong bond with the Montreal micro-cinema, as they would often journey to Quebec to present their own selections of films at Blue Sunshine. My one and only encounter with the venue was last fall, when I was in the city for Expozine. Coincidentally, my friend and TP cohort Jonathan Culp was the guest programmer that same weekend, hosting a series of films by and about Lotte Reiniger. Upon setting foot inside the theatre, I had become another convert.

This third-floor cinema is truly wonderful, evoking both nostalgia and modernity. The projection room has the facade of a ticket booth, emanating its beams into a clean, comfortable gallery space. In addition, the facility has a walk-up kitchen counter for refreshments, offers choice literature and DVDs for sale, and is refreshingly free of poser attitude. If pressed to compare it to anything in Toronto, I could only think of The Nostalgic Cinema, which had a similarly homey, friendly feel, and seemed to have an ulterior motive of being a resource centre to its patrons.

Indeed, upon perusal of Blue Sunshine’s monthly schedules, it is apparent that their choice programming comes from the heart, and not from an accounting ledger. In other words, theatre programmers who do screen cult movies usually are concerned with the bottom line, and as a result, often rely upon the most familiar titles to ensure ticket sales. It appears that Blue Sunshine's maxim is showing such marginal fare… simply because it must be shown! Tell me, where else are you going to see Black Rodeo, Youth Runs Wild or Gonks Go Beat... in a theatre?

It is with a heavy heart to announce that Blue Sunshine is shutting its doors for good, as its lease is expiring, and the cost-prohibitive measures of continuing even a small venue as this in downtown Montreal outweigh the cultural advantages. The cinema offers up its final week of programming this week with Ladies and Gentlemen: Mr. Leonard Cohen (May 10), Battle Beyond the Stars (May 11) and This Is Spinal Tap (May 12). The following weekend is their closing party. As with anything else Blue Sunshine has offered up in the past two years, my response is: “If I lived in Montreal, I know where I would be!”

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