Groups like the Will Rogers Pictures Pioneer Foundation, Art House Convergence, the Criterion Collection, and Janus Films are coming forward to provide much-needed support to movie theaters and theater employees across North America. Though the exhibition industry–we don’t exactly need to tell you— is in a dire situation right now, forced to suspend programming and furlough staff, some cinemas are still taking action to support frontline workers.
One of those is Toronto’s Paradise Theatre, which—like many art house and independent cinemas—has taken to the “virtual theatrical” model to bring in some money during the shutdown period; current films on their “Virtual Paradise Theatre” slate include Fantastic Fungi, Corpus Christi, The Wild Goose Lake, Luchino Visconti’s L’Innocente, Extra Ordinary, and (a film that seems borderline engineered for a worldwide health crisis that’s put millions of people indoors) Best of CatVideoFest. (It’s exactly what it sounds like.)
The Virtual Paradise Theatre has “been a great way to stay in our audiences’ lives, and we’re delighted that people are supporting us by choosing our virtual theater,” says Sonya William, Paradise’s director of communications. Inspired by the Jam Jar Cinema Local Heroes Campaign in the U.K.—which is raising money to secure free cinema admission to NHS staff, firefighters, police, and care workers—the Paradise is paying it forward in its own way: by donating two tickets to frontline workers for every one digital ticket sold.
The frontline workers who will be receiving these tickets once the Paradise reopens fall into three groups, William explains: people helping those in need to get food, shelter, and medical care. “Obviously there is significant crossover between the groups, because food access is critical to shelter, shelter is critical to health, and so on.”
To distribute the free tickets to those who have been putting themselves on the line during this crisis, the Paradise has partnered with two local groups: the Stop Community Food Centre, which has “reported serving 30% more meals and almost 75% more food bank hampers than their usual numbers,” and Sistering, a woman’s drop-in center that provides food, shelter, showers and laundry facilities, counseling, clothing, and more to at-risk women.
Working with local groups, William explains, is absolutely crucial for the Paradise’s free-ticket initiative… and not just because they know who to give the tickets to. “Cinemas are inherently local, as brick-and-mortar buildings you have to physically get to, so fostering our community is a hugely important part of our work,” she says. This philosophy is reflected in the Paradise’s previous work with Sistering; the cinema has been a member of the Sistering Community Advisory Council for over two years and has hosted both their open house and “a monthly series of women-directed films, A Woman’s Work, in their support.”
The Paradise is “still on the hunt for an appropriate partner to distribute tickets to healthcare workers.” Once they find one, that organization—along with the Stop Community Food Centre and Sistering—will receive e-ticket vouchers, all together numbering twice the number of virtual tickets sold during the Paradise’s shutdown.
“When social distancing is over, we’ll have what’s missing in the world today: the opportunity to connect in person, treat ourselves to something special and, let’s face it, leave the house! And who deserves that more than the people working on the front lines of today’s crisis?” Asks William. “Paradise Theatre is a gorgeous, recently-renovated Art Deco theater in the heart of Toronto’s west end. We serve delicious cocktails, fresh popcorn and more. We’re also wheelchair accessible and totally sight accessible (more info on our accessibility here). We hope we can give back to the people working so hard to keep our city running by treating them to a great night out.”