Toronto's Revue Cinema Tries to Remain a Thriving Community Hub as Landlord Aims to Make It a Private Business

The Revue Film Society has been granted an injunction and will continue operations for the time being

BY Alex HudsonPublished Jun 28, 2024

Anyone who has walked down Toronto's Roncesvalles Avenue has likely seen long lines outside of the Revue Cinema — a 112-year-old thriving arthouse that, any night of the week, attracts crowds with its selection of contemporary indie movies and vintage cinematic classics.

Despite the Revue's apparent health as a community hub, however, its future has suddenly been thrown into uncertainty this week with the news that the building's landlord was planning to evict the current operators, the federally incorporated not-for-profit Revue Film Society, and take over operations of the facility.

UPDATE (6/29, 11:00 a.m. ET): The Revue Film Society has received an injunction at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, blocking the eviction and allowing the cinema to proceed with operations. A press release from the Revue Film Society notes that landlords Daniel and Leticia Mullin cannot interfere with the cinema until the matter goes to trial.

"Our lease is up for renewal at the end of June. Over the past nine months, we've been attempting to get that lease renewed," Revue Film Society chair Grant Oyston tells Exclaim! "The façade of the building, which is over 100 years old, urgently needs some repair and restoration work."

The Society brought in architects and engineers to inspect the façade, and, before investing money in repairs, contacted the landlord, 96-year-old real estate investor Danny Mullin, about renewing the lease in advance. Oyston says that Mullin made a series of demands — including raising the rent from $10,200 per month to $15,000, having the Society pay for the work to the façade, for repair work to be done by the contractor of Mullin's choice, and for the Society to pay his insurance premium — and that the 10-member board of volunteers had agreed.

The Revue Film Society believed that they would be allowed to continue operations and, as a result, had booked films and special events (including weddings and birthdays) up until October. That was until Wednesday (June 26), when Mullin "sent a representative to the cinema during a sold-out screening of The Matrix at 10 o'clock at night to notify staff that they will be unemployed as of Monday," says Oyston.

The 23 staff members (49 if you include contract workers) were told that they could have a job working for Mullin when he takes over the cinema as a private business, but Oyston says that all workers refused the offer. This includes the Revue's two managers, Programming Director Serena Whitney and General Manager Caitlin France.

Mullin, meanwhile, says that he wants to fire the board, keep on the managers, no longer accept government grants, and continue to run the Revue as a private business, with any profit given back to the neighbourhood. "What the hell do I need a board for? I've put up with them for 17 years," he says. He claimed that the theatre is a "disaster" and criticized the board for changing members too often.

"The managers are going to run it. It's no use them [the board] hanging on," Mullin says. "It doesn't matter — they want to take me to court, do what they like. They can do what the hell they like, but the managers are going to run it. And if the managers don't want to run it, what the hell can I do?"

If Mullin successfully takes control of the Revue and turns it into a private business, there will be various hurdles before he can enact his vision: Oyston points out that the Revue Film Society owns the digital projector (which costs north of $100,000), most of the sound system, the ticketing system, the liquor license and the business license. He also notes that the Society has spent over $500,000 on improvements to the building over the past 17 years.

The Revue Cinema is a designated heritage site, having first opened in 1912. "What that means is, it started showing movies a decade before Charlie Chaplin began working," points out Oyston. "This cinema has existed for pretty much the entire history of commercial cinema, so it's a huge part of Canadian film history. Our mission is to preserve this building, as well as obviously exhibiting film." Mullin bought the building in 2007, and the Revue Film Society has continued to operate the cinema as a non-profit since then.

Oyston calls it "one of the most successful independent cinemas in North America." Although the Revue has operated at a loss for most of the years since 2007, Oyston says that it has "broken through" in the years since lockdown, and now has a "very small operating surplus." Its revenue in 2023 was $1.35 million (mostly from ticket sales and concessions); minus expenses, that left profits of close to $38,000 for the year, which the Society hopes to put toward the repairs to the façade.

"Our stance is this is an illegal eviction," argues Oyston. "We do not believe he has the legal right to do this on Monday. He has made many commitments to us over the past nine months that we will be permitted to continue past the end of June." Mullin claims not to have made any commitments to the board.

Oyston adds, "For him with two business days left in the in the lease to make a complete 180 and decide that he's not willing to sign anything — that's caused huge hardship and harm to our organization. So, as a result, today we are still attempting to get in front of the Ontario courts to get an emergency injunction to prevent him from what we believe to be an illegal eviction."

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