It was a decision made more out of desperation than choice.
After the 1,300-seat University Theatre (now home of the Bloor Street Pottery Barn) decided to close its doors, organizers of the 1987 Festival of Festivals—a festival we now know as the Toronto International Film Festival—needed a new venue to host its nightly Gala films. They tried all the film houses along Bloor and Avenue Streets, but the theatres big enough for premieres were all already booked for commercial film releases.
Cue the Ryerson Theatre.
Since 1987, the Ryerson Theatre has played host to hundreds of movies as part of the TIFF roster. From Gala screenings—where the biggest films premiere and stars walk the red carpet—to the interactive Midnight Madness program of horror and shock cinema, the Ryerson Theatre has been home to both Hollywood stars and Torontonians looking to join in on the festival’s annual array of movie magic.
In the festival’s 12th year, Ryerson played an important role by hosting all the Gala screenings but one: Paul Newman’s The Glass Menagerie. It also marked the first time the Ryerson Theatre would be used as a movie house. In order to accommodate, Bose Corp. donated what they claimed to be the “most sophisticated movie-theatre sound-system yet devised” at a fee of exactly $0 to the theatre.
The theatre continued to be the home for the festival’s Galas, including the 1988 premiere of Canadian director David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers, up until 1994, when the festival was renamed the Toronto International Film Festival and Galas were moved to their current home, Roy Thompson Hall.
Ryerson rejoined TIFF as a key player in 2004 when it replaced the Uptown Cinema as a screening location. QSC Audio was brought in to equip the theatre with new audio technology, and black velour was draped over all the theatre’s marble and granite trimming to reduce sound reflection.
Ryerson also became the official home of the Midnight Madness program in 2004. Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat premiered to serious buzz at the Ryerson Theatre in 2006 as part of Midnight Madness, but due to a projector malfunction the screening was delayed a second day. The delay only added to the buzz and saw Cohen fill time with an audience Q&A period completely in character.
The theatre also holds a special place in the hearts of certain filmmakers. Jason Reitman held his first Toronto Live Read, where a group of A-List actors perform a live reading of a movie script, at the Ryerson Theatre in 2012. Reitman’s father, Ivan Reitman, also donated the $22 million piece of land that the TIFF Bell Lightbox sits on to the foundation. Jason has since returned for other live readings and film premieres, including 2013’s Boogie Nights and 2014’s Men, Women and Children.
Most fittingly, however, is that Ryerson has become home to the festival’s People’s Choice winning screening since 2010. The King’s Speech, Silver Linings Playbook and 12 Years A Slave all went on to win the People’s Choice, screen for free to moviegoers at the Ryerson Theatre, and later go on to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.
The King’s Speech and 12 Years a Slave even went on to win the coveted award.
[P]hoto by Brian Batista Bettencourt, Folio 2012