It’s been 20 years since TIFF Cinematheque (formerly Cinematheque Ontario) first opened its doors at Jackman Hall at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Kicking off in June 1990 with a retrospective of the Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini — who, in a nice nod to history, will also be spotlighted during this summer’s anniversary programme — the Cinematheque was conceived as a Torontonian version of similar institutions in Europe and the United States, and inherited its initial archive from the Ontario Film Institute.
From there, the staff — including programmer James Quandt, who had previously devised a number of successful film screening series at Harbourfront — worked to cultivate a loyal audience of cinephiles. It’s a testament to their efforts that many of these initial patrons are still coming out to screenings — including a few who have been busy making movies of their own.
“I was there from the get-go,” says Atom Egoyan, who adds that his preferred seat is front-row centre — for the legroom.
Asked to name his favourite Cinematheque experience, the director cites an early retrospective of the canonical French director Robert Bresson.
“It was a complete revelation,” says Egoyan, “and perhaps too much of an influence on my work. I never went to film school, so to see these films projected, before they became available on VHS or DVD, was like my portal into film culture.”
Not that Egoyan thinks that home viewing is any substitute for the theatrical experience: he’s practically evangelical about the necessity for an optimum exhibition environment.
“Nobody would dare to take a call or send a text [here]. It’s a place without distractions ... which just eviscerate the whole experience.”
Egoyan’s sentiments are echoed by filmmaker Ingrid Veninger, whose microbudget 2008 drama Only (co-directed by Simon Reynolds) is arguably one of the most charming Canadian features of recent years.
“My husband gives me a Cinematheque membership every Christmas, and then we plan our ‘dates’ for the next three months,” says Veninger.