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The Cineplex Great Digital Film Festival - Recap and Interview with programmer Brad LaDouceur

Great Digital Film Fest at Cineplex
by Jason Whyte

Now in its fifth overall year at Cineplex theaters, The Great Digital Film Festival kicked off last Friday showcasing a week of classic and retro movies back on the big screen. Usually when one thinks about repetory cinema you think of a downtown single-screener playing a vintage movie at midnight like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” or “The Room”; instead the team at Cineplex decided to devote an entire screen, all week, to playing a series of uniquely programmed films at a majority of their locations.

This is my first year taking a look at what Cineplex had to offer. This is something I haven't been able to attend in the past due to the upcoming Victoria Film Festival usually running concurrently but as luck would have it, the series ran a week earlier giving me plenty of opportunity to head back to the past. Good timing too as I was feeling nostalgic. The movies in the festival this year included Akira, The Avengers, Battlestar Galactica, Batman (1989), Brazil, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, The Dark Knight, The Fisher King, Flash Gordon, Ghost in the Shell, Iron Man, Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, Logan's Run, Monty Python & The Holy Grail, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Planet of the Apes, Snatch, Spider-Man, Superman: The Movie, Thunderball & Tron.

Among the screenings I attended this week two of them stood out, PLANET OF THE APES and FLASH GORDON during the fest's theme day “Sci-Fi Sundays”. It was rather interesting to see both these movies projected on a big screen where they belong. Both glorious, wide-screen movies that have a look and feel that not even the best Blu Ray can accomplish. But it was FLASH GORDON that impressed me the most. Featuring a stunning new DCP (digital cinema package) presentation with a remastered soundtrack, it was an absolute delight to see a movie I hadn't seen in over two decades on a worn out VHS tape. More recently spoofed in the comedy “Ted”, Mike Hodges' (“Get Carter”, “Croupier”) seminal 80's sci-fi cult classic was an absolute blast to watch REALLY loud on the big screen again, and it was the most fun I have had in the movie theater in ages.

I was interested in getting a bit behind the scenes and looking into what makes a big theater chain consider doing a festival like this, so earlier last week I had the opportunity to talk over the phone with Cineplex's Front Row Centre events programmer, Brad LaDouceur, 47, about the films and brainstorming behind the Great Digital Film Festival.

What was the initial idea behind the Great Digital Film Festival?

This is the fifth annual year, but it has expanded to cities like Victoria for two years now. I was an usher working in Toronto years ago back in the 80's and a big movie buff. And there was a place called the Ontario Place Theater, where they used to run a 70mm film festival. They would run fan favourite films like APOCALYPSE NOW, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY on the big screen. Some were true 35mm and 70mm prints. Even in the middle of winter, which is when they would typically run them, we would still go down, get our tickets and go check out any of the 70mm prints they had.

When cinemas started to convert to digital, we realized we had all this great potential now with the technology to look at building an entire series focused on digital presentations of fan favourite films. And do it over the course of a whole week; so that people can plan a week of filmgoing, and do it SPECIFICALLY during Super Bowl Weekend. We know that if you're a hard-core film nut, you won't be watching Super Bowl on Sunday. And the days before and after are wide open territory for everyone! What we really wanted to do was create a festival this time of year, in the middle of the winter, where people can come together and watch the movies they love on the big screen.

Would you say you had a theme this year? I noticed a bit of a trend over the films programmed but figured you might have a hook.

What we started with was 25th anniversary pictures. We went back to 1989 and came up with two titles. The first two titles we booked were BILL & TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE as our first evening kickoff picture, and then decided on Tim Burton's BATMAN. And the whole festival grew out of that.

So along with booking BATMAN, we intitally thought to make it our Saturday night picture but then it got me thinking that we would like to have a theme day where you can come in at the beginning of the day, stay past midnight and just PLOW through a ton of great superhero movies. So we have a BATMAN, a SPIDER-MAN, an IRON MAN, a SUPER-MAN; so let's go with that idea and see where it takes us.

So out of all the programming picks, is BILL & TED your favorite?

It's one that is nostalgic to see back on the big screen, and it also has a bit of Canadian flavor with Keanu Reeves in there, and also any time you get to see the late George Carlin on the big screen is always a great night out at the movies. Certainly seeing him in that role was a first. And I remember it being a great audience 25 years ago, so being able to bring it back for a new audience years later is really why we picked it for our kick off picture on the opening Friday night.

You mentioned about 35mm and 70mm prints in the back, and of course all Cineplex theatres are digital. Are all the films playing in the DCP (digital cinema package) format or something else?

The majority are DCP, and the odd titles are presented in high-definition. And our whole focus is that we talked to the studios and we're starting to curate this whole form of programming, so we're looking as to what is available in DCP. We're also specifically looking for titles that are mastered in 4k digital, and a lot of studios are really starting to do that now.

There's also incentive to staying in the movie theatre, all day, something that I like to do!

Typically with any of our series our ticket prices are only $6 so you have a nice way to see a great picture on the big screen for a very special price. With the GDFF we add more discounts to save costs and give incentive to come out!

Did you have any difficulty in getting some of these movies programmed, or any interesting stories about getting the movies for the program?

Some are harder than others, but you really want to find a balance. So when we were filling in Sunday's retro sci-fi it started with FLASH GORDON, which I saw when I was a kid in the cinema with my dad, and we were big Queen fans at the time so we thought that was a good idea. And then we added the original 1978 BATTLESTAR GALACTICA from Universal. Let's kick of the day with that! And then adding TRON which was a good natural fit – Disney had a DCP that we were able to get – then continuing PLANET OF THE APES to keep with the retro sci-fi theme, and then ending the day with LOGAN'S RUN with Michael York. We thought it was a great fit and a movie you don't see programmed in rep cinemas very often.

You work for a movie theatre chain so I'm curious, what do YOU love the most about going out to the movies?

Personally for me it's about escapism and taking yourself out of daily life, and especially if you put yourself in these type of films. For example when you're watching IRON MAN, there's pure escapism there! There's a great story, a lot of action and there's certainly a lot of fantasy in there to keep people excited and entertained. For me it's about escapism. I've been in the business close to 30 years and I still love going to the movies.

All of these movies are on Blu Ray or Netflix or home video. What would you say is the GDFF's hook into getting people to come back out and see these movies on the big screen?

That energy, that community that loves to get together. A perfect example; you can sit at home and watch MONTY PYTHON & THE HOLY GRAIL. But, if you watch the movie at midnight on a Friday night with 200 people it's a totally different experience. And I think it's that kind of smile that people leave at the end of the night with when you see a picture like that makes it worthwhile. And we encourage the audience to get involved too. We know you're going to quote-along and bring coconuts, so that type of picture is really part of the whole experience. It's about community, a passion for movies, a real love for experiencing cinema on the big screen and all these great pictures. So that's where it all comes from. It's not just about putting any picture on the big screen; it's about curating a program and build nights so there's a bit of theme and variety for everyone.

And finally, what is the best movie you have ever seen on the big screen?

For me it goes back to seeing THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK as a kid. Being in Windsor, Ontario at the time, my dad piled us in the car as the movie was playing in 70mm across the river in Detroit. Getting to see that movie in 70mm was a pretty special experience and I love the movie to this day.

Thanks to Brad, Mike Langdon at Cineplex along with Naoko Kumagai at Touchwood PR for setting up this interview. For more information on the Great Digital Film Festival and Front Row Center events, point your browser HERE.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte; Facebook: /jasonwhyte

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originally posted: 02/07/14 08:15:30
last updated: 02/07/14 08:47:42
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