Acacia Centre Toronto

The Acacia Centre Quietly Emerges as Toronto's Newest Independent Cinema

The Acacia Centre for the Arts is setting up shop in the space formerly occupied by Golden Classics Cinema. Back in September, the venue started booking events.

This past year, I toured the shabby remains of some of Toronto's remaining independent theatres. Over time, floors seem to develop a layer of permanent stickiness. And those classic red velvet seats -- reminiscent of a bygone era when these neighbourhood movie houses were in their prime -- are not-so-plush after a few decades of use.

Naturally, I almost shed a tear walking through the door: the Acacia Centre is intact and just about good to go. But can Toronto really support a new independent cinema?

The space is located below a condo development at 186 Spadina Avenue, on the west side. It's in great condition. It's got an 80's retro feel.

The theatre has closed and re-opened a few times, operating as the Golden Harvest throughout the '80s and as the Golden Classics from 1994-1995. Both ran Asian films, but the short-lived latter had Colin Geddes, head of TIFF's Midnight Madness, on as a programmer. A 'Golden Classics' sign still hangs outside.

"When we found out about the availability of the theatre at Queen and Spadina we jumped at the opportunity to acquire it," says Sedwick Hill, one of three shareholders who purchased the spot about a year ago.

The big question mark is how the Acacia Centre will position itself. While the Acacia will have to compete with the city's established rep cinemas (notably the Bloor, Revue, Fox, and Royal), these businesses have had to carve out a niche in specialty programming and festivals to stay afloat in an era of Blu-rays, big screen HDTVs, illegal downloads, and crack-like addictions to gaming and social networking sites.

Hill, a financial adviser with a background in theatre, plans to continue to run the 700-seat space as a movie theatre, but also hopes to build a stage for live performances in the future, opening it up for seminars and corporate events. "We hope to make it viable but it is a challenging project," he admits.

My tour guide, Josh Tzventarny (along with a handful of other folks) has been banking in hours in order to launch the Acacia. Rolling it out slow and steady, the theatre rents sound equipment as needed and just last week purchased a new projector. Tzventarny tells me that small film festivals and private functions have been covering basic operating expenses.

Later this month, the Images Festival will be running a test screening at the site. If all goes well, this could bring the 23rd edition of the Festival to the Acacia in April, and with it (possibly) an inroad to the local festival circuit.

Photo by Chandra Menard.

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