Club District

A Closer Look at Toronto's Club District

You either love Toronto's club district or you stay far far away. As a downtown dweller and someone who has pushed past my club-going prime, it's easy for me to dismiss or deride both the clubs and the 905ers who descend on Richmond and Adelaide streets in their rented stretched Hummers for a night out in the big city.

But the club business is big business and like it or not, despite the efforts of area residents, the BIA and a certain city councillor it's not going to change in any drastic ways anytime soon.

A newish documentary called Clubland takes a look at the current state of the area through interviews with local club owners, club goers and others who have a stake in its future. I first saw the film back in May when it premiered at Hot Docs; but in advance of its world television premiere this Friday on Global I connected with its producer Peter Gentile to find out his impressions of the area and what it was like trying to track down Gatien, Khabouth and the Clubland's other central characters.

Why did you decide to make this film?

When i was younger I hung out in nightclubs a lot with friends, looking back I didn't quite understand why I went so much. Recently with all the headlines that the entertainment district was receiving I thought it would be a good question to ask and find out why a lot of men and women go to the clubs and the ripple effect it had on the area and on the city.

Do you think you successfully answered those questions?

I think viewers will be in a better position to answer that - I mean for me it really revealed the domino effect that starts with guys and girls wanting to go out and meet, dance and connect. It has become a big business and that in turn has attracted very big business people.

The area that we look at in the film was really abandoned when I was going there 20 years ago - parking lots were free it was actually very quiet it was really a ghost town in the city at night in that area. 20 years later the clubs effect on the area is that it firstly attracted crowds and eventually land developers saw it as an opportunity to build condos that the very people who were going to the area might actually want to live in that very same area.

That has been a success story for the city in that the downtown core is vibrant (not that the Entertainment District is the only reason for that) with people going out but also people living in the downtown core which really wasn't the case 20 years ago. But that leads to other things in that now people living in the area don't want the things that come with 50,000 young people coming into their neighborhoods every weekend.

What would you like to see happen to the area? What realistically can be done to improve the situation for both club goers and residents?

That's a very tough question to answer. Many people have been looking into the very issue - city planners, politicians, club owners and builders. I personally don't think you can eliminate the clubs in the area. They actually bring a lot to the city but I think 100 clubs in the area is too much (when we filmed last year there were 53 clubs remaining) but I don't think there should be a condo on every corner either - the answer I hate to say is a very Canadian one - balance.

With the way the economy is now there are too many clubs to sustain themselves and it appears that new condo construction has slowed as well - this actually might provide an opportunity for a more diverse mix of other businesses and enterprises to sprout up and make the area more dynamic.

When you were making the film, did you have any difficulty getting access to the club owners or other people you wanted to talk to?

At first it was difficult because i think whenever you're doing a documentary trust is a big issue....and you usually don't have a lot of time to earn it. I had some contacts in the area with a club owner and some of the police and our director Eric Geringas has a cousin who runs one of the clubs and those contacts helped letting everyone know that we didn't have an agenda.

How about the big guys like Charles Khabouth and Peter Gatien? I suspect they didn't need the extra attention?

You're right. They don't need the press personally but every venture in the district needs attention to succeed. It's very competitive. Both Charles and Peter are leaders in the field and they might have different styles but they both ran very professional clubs and would say they set the standard in the city. A lot of problems that have arisen in the club district comes from owners that had clubs as side ventures and wasn't their primary focus....One thing we learned is the club business is very tough. It's competitive, tastes change quickly and there's a big capital investment required to attract crowds.

And now Gatien has left CiRCA. Did you get a sense he left because of the issues with the area?

He left recently but not while we were filming. He was still there. We ran into him last week but he didn't say what he was up to next. No one is really sure why he left. A couple of other key people left as well and are now actually working with Charles.

The film is 44 minutes long. When I watched it at Hot Docs I was hoping it would have gone on longer. Were you restricted to this length for budget reasons? Or did you feel you covered all you had set out to?

Well the 44 minutes is actually a standard television hour nowadays. We had a 54 minute version that played at Hot Docs and there is other footage on our website. We filmed pretty much all weekends last summer and used two cameras. We had almost 50 hours of footage and lots of interview subjects that we could not fit into the show. And in regard to 'set out to do' that's a good point in terms of where you start but the more you film the more the films starts leading you in directions and what you set out to do becomes very simple - tell a story in a compelling way.

Tell me about getting the film seen and distributed? Beyond Hot Docs, has it been shown anywhere? What has this process been like?

We are working on getting a distributor now and excited about the world television premiere this Friday at 8pm on Global Television.

Anything else you'd like to tell me?

The project was a lot of fun to do but going to clubs is a young man's game - you've got to be in a certain type of shape to do it week in and week out. The other thing I noticed is that the women are much more aggressive nowadays and now with a young daughter I can't help but wonder what the club scene will be like in 20 years.

Photo by Roger Cullman

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