[Update June 17, 2009: The group behind the initiative has changed the name of its Facebook group to Friends of the Paradise. The Friends will have a table at this year's Big on Bloor festival, Saturday June 20, 1-9pm. The festival will happen along a Bloor that will be closed to traffic from Christie in the east to Lansdowne in the west.]
I went this evening to a meeting to discuss the future of the Paradise movie theatre on the north side of Bloor, a block west of Dovercourt. The theatre was part of the Festival repertory chain, but closed after that group dissolved. It's been sitting empty for three years. Now a group of people in the neighbourhood would like to find a way to open it up as a community space that would be used for more than movies. Three people, Joe Jacobs, Jordan Lewis and Sarah Latha-Elliot have formed a Facebook group called Save Paradise! which now has 225 members. They have met with the owner who seems interested in reviving the theatre. They also had an encouraging meeting with Friends of the Revue Cinema.
The purpose of tonight's meeting was to see how much interest there is in the community. As one of the organizers said, if people hadn't shown up, that might have been the end of it, but as things turned out at least fifty people came to The Storefront. Early in the meeting, I counted 42. A few people came and went but there were definitely more people in the room after I counted the first time. I recognized some faces from Big on Bloor meetings. Others I have seen at the Dufferin Grove farmers' market.
As might be expected at this sort of event, the arts community was well-represented while Portuguese labourers (still an important part of the neighbourhood) weren't to be seen. Neither did I see any of the shinny players from Dufferin or Christie Pits. One of the organizers said he's a teacher at a local alternative school while another said he was a social worker who has worked with homeless people. They are both from the neighbourhood.
It was definitely not a representative cross-section of the local community, although the neighbourhood is changing. A few people mentioned how the area's demographics have altered in the last few years.
Chris Gallop from Adam Giambrone's office was there. (I may have more to say about this at another time.)
At the start of the meeting one of the organizers said something about dividing up into groups but that never happened. While the organizers were making their opening remarks people started chiming in with questions and comments. There was quite a lively discussion. Some of those who spoke up pointed out that while it's all well and good to have wonderful ideas, it would take a lot of work to make any of them real. There seemed to be an understanding that re-opening the theatre would be a big undertaking.
The organizers don't think the Paradise can survive by showing second-run movies alone. (However, someone else pointed out that the theatre was still showing a profit when it closed.) While the organizers still want to show films, they also want to make use of the venue for live theatre and public events. The Paradise has a stage and small dressing rooms because it used to be a vaudeville theatre. (The City of Toronto has listed it as a heritage property.) One of the organizers said he would like to see it used for vaudeville again. There was also talk of using the theatre for "progressive" community events and multicultural film festivals. (I guess that means no conservative events allowed, which contradicts the idea of the theatre becoming a community space open to all.)
However, at this point everything is still at the idea stage. There is no formal organization or plan in place. Interest in the theatre is there, but whether anything comes of it remains to be seen.