Independent Cinema Review: Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema

Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema is just the recent tenant of the long-standing theatre on Bloor st. in the Annex. Built in 1913 by architect John Alexander Mackenzie, this historic building has been the location for almost ten name changes, originally the Madison Theatre to now the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema. As it stands now, the Cinema is primarily dedicated to the screening and showcase of documentary and factual films from around the world, culminating in an annual spring festival.

Black and White historic Madison theatre marquee
Credit: Hot Docs History

Being an older building, accessibility is a crawling process for the cinema; the main floor is wheelchair accessible, with space for wheelchair seating right in front of the screen and an accessible restroom. Although, there is no accessible access to the second-floor balcony. Hot Docs asks patrons to phone in advance if additional services are required. On the bright side, they readily offer Close Captioning, Open Captioning, Described Audio and subtitles.

Accessibility – 4/5 WHEELS

A day before the showing (I bought tickets online), I received an email strongly advising audience members to mask while in Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema. The volunteers who scanned my tickets were masked, like most patrons. However, none of the employees were masked. The matinee I attended was not busy, and with the size of the auditorium, it was effortless to space out.

COVID-19 Protocols – 3/5 MASKS

Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema is right around the corner from the Line 2 Bathurst subway station. It is also on the Bathurst 511 streetcar line, with plenty of Bloor bus routes running by. With a large sign out front, the Hot Docs is easily spotted from the sidewalk.

Transit-ability – 5/5 TRAINS

Standard admission is $15, similar to larger chain cinemas. However, their concessions are a steal, with popcorn prices ranging from $5-6 and fountain drinks from $4-5; tea, coffee, and candy are even cheaper.

Prices – 5/5 COINS

When I arrived, the box office was training a new employee, but they were still very attentive. The volunteers scanned my ticket and told me where my seat was. The staff and volunteers contributed to a very casual atmosphere, and the music in the lobby was old-school R&B/Rap which was fun and different from most theatres.

Customer Service – 5/5 HELPING HANDS

The Three Big S’s

Hot Docs Ted Rogers view to the screen on main floor
Hot Docs Ted Rogers view to the screen on main floor

Sound: You can feel and hear the subway underground going to Bathurst station, and the sound mainly seems to come from the front speakers. Amid the film, however, the world around you seems to drift away, and you notice less of the subway and the sound from the lobby. The was a land acknowledgment before the film started, which was very grounding in the space.

4/5 EARDRUMS

Seating: The seats are comfortable and reclinable, although relatively narrow. The aisles were narrow as well. The assigned numbers and letters were more accessible than in other cinemas.

5/5 PILLOWS

Screen: I found the screen a decent size for the auditorium, but it was relatively high up to accommodate the balcony seats, meaning for a good sight line from the first-floor seating, you need the reclining feature of the seats.

3/5 CORNEAS

Films on the Roster

Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema Interior, empty
Credit: Bloor St. Culture Corridor

For their January 2023 schedule, about a third is Canadian content. However, they don’t offer that many films, given the niche content and having only one theatre. They often work in partnership with the National Film Board (NFB) of Canada, a significant indicator of this nonprofit’s dedication to highlighting Canadian creatives.

Canadian Titles – 5/5 BUTTER TARTS

The Hot Docs Ted Rogers cinema offers online and in-house courses for “Curious Minds”. It hosts a series of talks, panels, and curated cinema: live ;As with the directors/producers and special screenings of mainstream films for cult lovers or families.

Special Events – 5/5 GIRL SCOUTS CREATIVITY RIBBONS

All except a couple of scheduled screenings at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema are independent or publicly funded projects. There is a likely hood that many of these films are hard to find anywhere else. This cinema’s dedication to independent factual content is extraordinary.

Indie vs Mainstream Titles – 5/5 HIPSTERS

2016 reopening of Hot Docs Cinema, night
Credit: Hot Docs History

For a niche cinema with its interests very much centred on factual content, I found my experience at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers cinema highly immersive and enjoyable. Although I don’t usually gravitate towards documentary film, I am intrigued to keep informed about what’s playing at this Toronto staple.

TOTAL SCORE – 49/55

 

 

About Isobel Grieve 36 Articles
Isobel is a bisexual Toronto-based writer. She has a B.A.H. in English and Media & Cinema Studies from the University of Guelph and a Postgraduate Certificate from the Humber College Television Writing and Producing program. Isobel writes about Arts and Culture; you can follow her @IsobelGrieve on Twitter.