Where to watch avant-garde cinema in Toronto

The avant-garde and experimental cinema community in Toronto are likely still riding high on the just-wrapped Images Festival. But Images, and the similar Wavelengths program at TIFF, come but once a year, so it's important to know where to get your fix in off-festival months.

The big, bad "Avant-garde" term has been known to scare people off, but anyone interested in art, with a taste for cinema outside of the studio system, will have no problem acquiring its varied tastes. Naturally, as an 'underground' niche, it can be difficult to find the venues and collectives that dedicate their screens to this alternative, non-narrative form of moving images. So, I've collected a handful of the unmissable events, screens, and organizations which host regular screenings throughout the year. Here they are in no particular order.

Early Monthly Segments, at the Gladstone Art Bar
This monthly screening series just celebrated its 2nd anniversary in March, and it's already one of the best curated cinema events in Toronto. The familial atmosphere is anything but intimidating, and often feels more like hanging out at your friend's place. There are raffle drawings that kick off the evening, and short breaks between films (and sometimes between reels) to allow everyone to top up their beers. Organized by filmmaker Chris Kennedy and Images programmers Scott Berry and Kate MacKay, this $5 event gives Torontonians the perfect opportunity to catch up on the avant-garde canon. Earthly Weekly Segments, anyone?

The Free Screen, at the TIFF Bell Lightbox
This free (!) screening series was started at The Cinematheque Ontario in the mid-1990s under the name The Independents. Now advertising its entry fee, as well as the freedom of expression and vision that audiences can expect to find in the program, it remains an exciting blend of new and classic experimental films and videos, from shorts to hours-long works, by both international and local artists (they had two programs just this Winter focusing solely on the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre's collection).

TIFF's Wavelengths programmer AndrĂŠa Picard shapes the series, inviting guest curators and programmers, while also putting together some of her own events. The Free Screen tends to show three or four programs a month, but takes a hiatus for the summer, so take advantage of this season!

CineCycle, coach house in laneway behind 129 Spadina Ave.
Founded by film handler, projectionist, and filmmaker Martin Heath, this coffee bar/bike repair shop/experimental media venue is a true Toronto original. There are usually two or three events a month in this hidden cultural amalgam, and its entire being is one of the best examples of genuine experimentation in the city. Their cinema events range from the repertory (they've screened classic Tati films and, duh, Bicycle Thieves), to video-performance art, to avant-garde films.

Of course, the bicycle theme is never far-removed from the CineCycle experience. They've frequently showed films about bicycle racing, while also hosting a musical performance on a Bikrophone (it's true), and even organizing film screenings shown on a bicycle-operated projector. Experience at least once before you die.

The Loop Collective, various locations
The Loop Collective is made up of independent experimental media artists and filmmakers who organize screenings and events around the Greater Toronto Area. Their 'Lighthouse Series', a style of program not unlike Early Monthly Segments', has just resumed after taking a year-long hiatus with the screening of a rare Stan Brakhage film at CineCycle. In the past, though, they have shown programs at Ryerson's School of Image Arts, as well as The Factory in Hamilton, and Deleon White Gallery and Vatikan, both on Queen Street. They promise three more events in 2011, so check their website every once in a while to see what's on tap.

New and hard to find avant-garde events are always appearing, disappearing, and being discovered, but these are a few of the staples that should be in every cineaste's diet. For a great resource on avant-garde events, check out the indispensable website super8porter for frequently updated listings.

Photo by Eyeline Imagery in the blogTO Flickr pool

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