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This independent Halifax cinema closed nearly 30 years ago. But its legacy is still intact

This independent Halifax cinema closed nearly 30 years ago. But its legacy is still intact

When Chris Aucoin first laid eyes on the person who would turn into the nice love of his life, he was sitting inside a darkish and crowded basement in downtown Halifax.

It was the spring of 1991 and he was at Wormwood’s Canine and Monkey Cinema, the place the Nova Scotia Individuals with AIDS Coalition was internet hosting a screening of the documentary Paris Is Burning. The group was elevating funds to assist these combating the virus, which at that time was nonetheless broadly thought-about to be a loss of life sentence.

As Aucoin seemed across the theatre that night, he acknowledged almost each particular person within the sold-out room, aside from a good-looking man sitting alone within the again row.

“He had shoulder-length hair, which was not the norm, a full beard, additionally not the norm, and a giant mustache,” he remembered. 

“I assumed, properly, perhaps he’s [sneaking] into his first queer movie ever.”

Paris is Burning, directed by Jennie Livingston, opened in Halifax on Might 31, 1991. (Cinema Information, June 1991/CBC Archives)

This group of principally homosexual males and lesbians had come collectively to help an necessary trigger, but in addition to see the buzzworthy movie. Paris Is Burning follows the Black and Latinx drag-ball scene in New York Metropolis and has since gone on to turn into a basic of queer cinema.

“It was simply an interesting look into a really distinctive side of queer life in North America, that was unfamiliar to me, and I count on unfamiliar to most individuals within the room at that time,” Aucoin remembered.

Queer folks dwelling in Halifax then knew all too properly {that a} movie like Paris Is Burning would by no means play on the metropolis’s multiplexes, which simply two years earlier had refused to display screen Martin Scorcese’s Final Temptation of Christ in Nova Scotia amid widespread controversy pushed by non secular teams.

On the left, a photo of Wormwood's Cinema, advertising the Last Temptation of Christ. On the right, a Pentacostal minister walks into a church.
In 1989, when Empire Theatres declined to indicate Martin Scorcese’s movie The Final Temptation of Christ, Wormwood’s choice to display screen the movie was condemned by a Pentecostal minister from Stewiacke, N.S. The movie drew giant crowds for its whole 3-week run. (The Wormwood’s Canine and Monkey Cinema Group on Fb/CBC Archives)

It was a consolation to the Halifax queer group to know that, irrespective of Halifax’s dimension, there was a spot like Wormwood’s the place they may see the movies they solely heard about within the homosexual press or maybe in newspapers from Toronto, Montreal or New York Metropolis. 

Aucoin quickly discovered the title of the person he noticed at Wormwood’s was Ben Kozak. They met once more by probability per week later at Crystal Crescent Seashore.

As Aucoin walked previous the third seaside, identified for being clothing-optional, he shed his garments and continued strolling alongside the coast. 

When he noticed a German shepherd, he kneeled to embrace the canine and provides him a pat on the pinnacle. After which he seemed up.

“It’s Ben, mendacity on his towel 30 toes away, watching me fuss over what turned out to be his canine,” mentioned Aucoin.

Three photos of a gay couple. On the left, both men are in suits. On the top right, each wears a t-shirt in a crowd at Toronto Pride. In the bottom right, the two of them wear matching plaid shirts. The man on the right has glasses, while the man on the left wears a denim hat.
Left, Ben Kozak and Chris Aucoin on New Years Eve, 1991. High proper, the couple at Toronto Pleasure in 1993. Backside proper, a photograph taken within the spring of 1998. (Submitted by Chris Aucoin)

The 2 of them spent the day on the seaside, went dwelling collectively, and shortly fell in love.

“We thought-about that day shifting ahead to be our anniversary for the remainder of our relationship,” mentioned Aucoin.

That night time at Wormwood’s was Kozak’s first time on the cinema, however over their courtship, the couple would go on to see numerous films there.

“It was a daily a part of our social life as a result of he was additionally a movie junkie,” mentioned Aucoin. ” We’d go to see arthouse movies and queer movies and John Waters movies and absolutely anything and every little thing.”

A theatre for everybody

Wormwood’s was a scrappy mom-and-pop arthouse cinema that continues to be remembered at the moment, almost 30 years after it shuttered for good.

It was a part of the theatre’s ethos to make movies accessible to communities of all stripes.

“From the queer group, to the Black group to the Lebanese group, the Greek group, we might finally present one thing that will enchantment to each distinctive particular person within the metropolis,” mentioned co-owner Peter Gaskin final week, from his dwelling in Dartmouth, N.S.

Along with most of the movies that made up what’s now often known as the New Queer Cinema, Wormwood’s additionally screened movies by leaders of the French New Wave like Jean-Luc Godard’s Hail Mary and early work by groundbreaking Black administrators like Spike Lee, to not point out work from native filmmakers like Paul Donovan and William D. MacGillivray.

Peter Gaskin stands outside Wormwood's Dog and Monkey Cinema next to a poster for the documentary Hoop Dreams.
Peter Gaskin stands exterior Wormwood’s Canine and Monkey Cinema subsequent to a poster for the documentary Hoop Desires. (Submitted by Peter Gaskin)

A labour of affection

Every week, Gaskin and his employees, together with programmers Ron Foley McDonald and Lia Rinaldo, would sift by commerce magazines to determine what they’d prefer to see come to Halifax. Then, they’d start to succeed in out to distributors to see if they may make a screening a actuality, one thing that may very well be troublesome within the age of 35mm movie prints.

In 1988, Gaskin joined forces with Gordon Parsons, the founding proprietor and former director of the Atlantic Movie Competition, when the theatre migrated from the Khyber Constructing on Barrington Road to the previous Carpenters Corridor on Gottingen Road — the place the Propeller Arcade and Brewery is positioned at the moment.

Apart from hiring just a few paid carpenters, Gaskin and Parsons and different volunteers from the movie group constructed the majority of the brand new theatre with their very own fingers. They painted partitions, laid down plywood, and made the house their very own — a scrappy cinema with 150 seats that also felt like dwelling.

Those that got here to observe a movie would open the entrance door and proceed down a flight of steps to the basement, the place the scent of recent popcorn and low wafted by the foyer, earlier than passing by the crying room — an ingenious invention that allowed dad and mom to flee right into a soundproof room if their youngsters started to cry — and into the theatre.

Lia Rinaldo, now the director of the Devour Meals Movie Competition, spent almost a decade working at Wormwood’s, starting when she was simply 16 years previous.

She remembers screening The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and delighting because the movie grabbed maintain of the viewers.

Terence Stamp, Guy Pearce and Hugo Weaving play a pair of drag queens and a transsexual in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Terence Stamp, Man Pearce and Hugo Weaving play a pair of drag queens and a trans girl in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. (PolyGram Filmed Leisure)

It follows two drag queens and a trans girl on a ragtag journey throughout Australia to carry out in varied cities and in entrance of homophobic audiences.

Even then, it was clear it was destined for an prolonged lifespan as a cult basic.

“What an ideal movie!” mentioned Rinaldo. “The folks dressed up, they danced within the aisles, and it just about occurred each time.”

A special world

Wormwood’s has forged an extended shadow over the Halifax movie scene, even because the moviegoing expertise has modified drastically over time.

In 1993, Parsons, the founding proprietor, died and the theatre by no means totally recovered, mentioned Gaskin.

“Nobody was making any cash doing it … however we had a hell of loads of enjoyable, and when Gordon died, a piece of that enjoyable went away,” he mentioned.

It survived yet one more transfer, to the previous Vogue Cinema on Gottingen Road, now dwelling of International Halifax, earlier than closing down completely in 1997.

Practically 30 years later, the moviegoing expertise has modified drastically.

The age of streaming implies that virtually each movie a cinephile can consider is offered to observe at dwelling with just a few clicks of a button. Multiplexes, in the meantime, haven’t precisely grown extra numerous by way of what they display screen, counting on superhero blockbusters to usher in audiences. Impartial cinemas are combating tooth and nail for his or her survival.

In Halifax, solely Carbon Arc Cinema stays, run by an unbiased group and not using a everlasting dwelling, that screens arthouse movies most weekends on the Museum of Pure Historical past.

Wormwood’s house reworking once more right into a cinema

Over the previous few years, the Propeller Arcade has begun exhibiting movies in the identical basement Wormwood’s as soon as did.

They’re programmed by Ian Matheson, a co-owner and supervisor on the bar, who’s properly conscious of the historical past of the house.

Sometimes, a former Wormwood’s common will stroll by the doorways, says Matheson, and he’ll watch as they’re transported again to the cinema’s glory days,

“I’ll watch them cease useless of their tracks,” he mentioned. “They simply unintentionally discover themselves within the house watching a film, after which it comes collectively, which is a reasonably magical factor to see.”

A number of weeks in the past, a sold-out crowd crammed into the basement to observe a screening of Transformers: The Film, a cult-classic animated movie from 1986.

Ian Matheson speaks to a sold-out crowd before a screening of Transformers: The Movie at the Propeller Arcade on Gottingen Street, a former home of Wormwood's Dog and Monkey Cinema.
Ian Matheson speaks to a sold-out crowd earlier than a screening of Transformers: The Film on the Propeller Arcade on Gottingen Road, a former dwelling of Wormwood’s Canine and Monkey Cinema. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

Inside was a few of that very same delirious vitality Rinaldo recalled at Wormwood’s.

As they cheered and laughed at Matheson’s color commentary, and listened intently as a person in a Transformers costume gave out prizes earlier than the movie, it was apparent why every of them had chosen to observe a decades-old movie in public as a substitute of at dwelling.

“Halifax is type of starved for that [experience],” mentioned Matheson. “There are locations that do it, however when it occurs, everyone simply concentrates on it like a laser beam and it explodes.”

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