Opinion: Royal Takeover?

This morning, many in the Toronto film community were shocked when Bar Volo unexpectedly tweeted the following announcement:

This announcement was responded to in shock by many in the Toronto film community, who had come to know the Royal as one of the best repertory cinemas in the city. Some even concluded that this meant that the cinema was shutting down. However, it was clarified by Volo that they are merely subleasing the concession area in the lobby.

Despite the clarification, there was still a lot more questions than answers and it has become increasingly clear that people are not happy that The Royal how allowed a presumably high-end bar to take over a concession area that previously consisted of the traditional popcorn and soft drinks, along with selections from local craft breweries.

So, what are my thoughts about all of this? Well, I will probably start by saying that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the entire industry of cinematic exhibition and at this point, The Royal has been closed for well over a year. I was friends with many of the staff members of the Royal and those connections resulted in me being able to currate a couple of screenings, including one of Rian Johnson’s Brick, which occurred just a couple of months before the cinema closed due to COVID.

I can completely understand The Royal being forced to find other revenue streams in response to the length of time that it has been closed. I would assume that Volo taking over the concession area is not unlike the nearby Paradise Cinema, which has survived during the pandemic due to its relationship with the neighbouring Osteria Rialto restaurant and bar.

That all said, I can’t exactly say that I am happy with this news. When I last went to the cinema, for a repertory screening of Battle Royale in February 2020, the Royal still had a neighbourhood cinema feel to it. Reportedly, the Royal underwent immense renovations over the course of the pandemic and this new partnership with Volo suggests that the Royal is transforming itself into a more high-end venue. At this time, I do not know if the repertory programming that made of the bulk of the Royal’s screenings will return or if the cinema will be more a place for special events and film festivals, including hopefully the return of the Blood in the Snow Film Festival in the fall.

I fear that this is just the beginning of a permanent change in Toronto’s film landscape, which will probably never again reach pre-COVID levels. And for that, I am just sad.

Whatever the future brings, you can relive The Royal Cinema’s repertory past by buying the book of poster artwork of the cinema’s past screenings illustrated by Andrew Barr

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This post was proofread by Grammarly