Fresno Filmworks: Building a 'Rep' is tough

The Fresno BeeAugust 14, 2013 

There's always been a disconnect between what people say they want in terms of a city's entertainment options and what they'll actually support with their wallets. That fact is made abundantly clear in the 2012 Canadian documentary "The Rep," about a struggling repertory movie house in Toronto.

Sure, it's cool to like the idea of a single-screen theater that shows a different "old" movie every night of the week. But translating that interest into attendance proves problematic for the ungainly trio of film-buff partners trying to make a go of it with the Toronto Underground Cinema.

Director Morgan White spent a year at the struggling theater giving a popcorn-kernel's-eye view of the difficulties faced when your movie idealism clashes with the realities of the marketplace. Along the way, he checks in with some of the few remaining rep movie houses in the United States.

"The Rep," which screens 2 p.m. Sunday at the Tower Theatre, is a special presentation by Fresno Filmworks, and I'm sure it will fascinate stalwart supporters of the organization. Filmworks has for a while been presenting two types of regular monthly programming: first-run independent, foreign and indie films that bypass local multiplexes (essentially acting as an art-film theater); and classic, second-run films (what you'd find at a rep house).

Adding to the Fresno screening's appeal: After the screening, Filmworks board members will host a free small-group community conversation session about the "artistic and financial future of Filmworks, The Tower Theatre, and the moviegoing experience in Fresno." (You don't have to buy a ticket to attend the forum.)

Whatever the discussion, "The Rep" makes clear that the outlook for rep theaters is bleak. While people are still attracted to the communal aspect of moviegoing — the death of film has always been exaggerated — that resilience apparently doesn't extend to the rep category. Most moviegoers seem content to watch older movies, either on DVD or streaming, at home. Going out to a new release is still seen as an event. Tromping down to a local theater to watch "Easy Rider" is a tougher sell.

Or at least that's what happens in Toronto, as we watch the three partners seemingly trying to will customers to walk through the door. An odd quality about "The Rep" is that the dysfunctional personal dynamics between the partners — while compelling — threaten to take over the larger issues of the film.

And from a storytelling standpoint, White could have tightened portions of the film considerably. We get the point: Movies are wonderful communal experiences. (The final comments from the partners seem endless.)

Still, there's a happy pep to "The Rep" even as it acknowledges the obstacles ahead for small movie theaters. It's the type of title that only Fresno Filmworks can deliver, and somehow that's fitting.



"The Rep," not rated. Directed by Morgan White. A Fresno Filmworks presentation at 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 18, at the Tower Theatre, 815 E. Olive Ave. Running time: 99 minutes. Grade: B-


To watch Fresno Filmworks board members Jefferson Beavers and John Moses talk with Morgan White, director of "The Rep," go to


The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6373, and @donaldbeearts on Twitter. Read his blog at

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