A beginner’s guide to the film-related resources on and off campus, and why using them matters
To both new and returning students, I would like to put forward a suggestion for the coming school year: seek out uncomfortable art—whatever uncomfortable means to you.
That’s it. Listen to an album in a genre you’ve never liked, or read a novel in translation. Go see a play, or an art exhibit with a context that requires some research. Ask your friends for suggestions, and try to talk about your experience. There’s no guarantee that it will be life changing. But any art that work from a viewpoint dissimilar to your own will at least be interesting.
To be specific, try to find a movie somewhere beyond your comfort zone. Because, while movies aren’t treated with the same flippancy as they used to be, there is still an ongoing debate about whether or not movies are inherently Art or Entertainment. And whether you lean towards one side or the other, the opposition presents an easy solution to finding an uncomfortable movie—: if you usually treat movies as an excuse to hang out and eat popcorn, go see the artiest movie you can find; if you only watch auteur films exclusively released before the 1990s, please go see the latest Marvel movie.
The one rule, or secondary suggestion, is that you should always interact with uncomfortable art in spaces which make you feel safe. This is because your reaction to something new is often just as unpredictable as the art itself. Take it slow. Test out new theatres or galleries with people who will support you. There’s a wealth of resources and theatres available both on campus and around Toronto. My informal guide below is limited to the downtown core, and just begins to scratch its surface.
A few months ago, I ventured alone to a small theatre on the third floor of an empty Ryerson building to see a screening of La France est Notre Patrie, a Cambodian anti-colonial documentary. I was nervous, in part because I knew nothing about it, but also because the screening was part of a monthly series, and I felt I was intruding partway through the year. Of course, my anxieties were baseless; —the movie was wonderfully critical, aided by the atmosphere of the event. Before the screening started, I had a chance to speak to the grad student running the series. He was excited I hadn’t seen any of the director’s prior work—an enthusiasm I’ve run into again and again. Don’t be afraid of watching a movie that seems “ beyond you.” Most likely, it’s not, and anyone hosting a screening is going to be more than happy to share something they love.
Screenings and festivals on-campus are always welcoming. Innis Town Hall hosts more events than I can mention. Check out the Free Friday Films hosted by CINSSU, which are exactly what they sound like: a film or two each Friday night, often striking a balance between classic and contemporary, art and entertainment. Or attend any of the series put on by the school. Last year their Contemporary Canadian series was packed both times I attended. If you’d like to support your peers and see something truly original, go to one of the student film festivals. They’re held simultaneouslyto, and sometimes in the same venues as, some of the city-wide international festivals (other than TIFF) which showcase diverse national and cultural cinemas.
But it’s often the off-campus theatres which give you space to find your new favourite movie, besides finding your new favourite theatre. Each venue has its own character, alongside a variety of unique offerings. If you didn’t catch the latest release, you can probably still see it at one of the Imagine Cinemas downtown, which play like cozier multiplexes. For cult classics and special screenings, including events more akin to performances, The Royal and The Revue are the places to go. International films land here and there, but a wide selection, along with regular classic retrospectives, show at the TIFF Lightbox. And if you’re interested in the experimental scene, super8porter.ca keeps an event list of all the screenings happening in mini-venues around town.
Don’t want to go out? The Media Commons at Robarts has thousands of DVDs available for loan, and most campus libraries have a good selection of film books if you want to read up on a star, director, or movement. The Toronto Public Library even offers a streaming service of hundreds of Criterion Collection films, which means there are plenty of free options if you’re in the mood for something besides Netflix.
This year, push yourself to discover something new, whether it’s a theatre, movie, or some other media. See how that art interacts with your own tastes and conceptions of what art, or movies, can do. Discomfort will lead to critical thinking while also moving you through a story, emotion,or concept. If you find something which makes your heart race, you’re in luck, and try—as hard as it can be—to hold onto that feeling amidst other people’s judgments. One of my favourite movie moments was going to see Under the Skinon my first trip to The Royal. The theatre set the atmosphere, with seats sloping gently down to a screen tucked behind a blue curtain. When the lights dimmed, the curtains rolled open and the screen lit up with one of the most unnerving opening shots I’ve ever seen. Both the movie and theatre have remained close to my heart because, eventually, the uncomfortable will become your comfort.
Illustration | Yilin Zhu