on the way out of the fascinat-ing FullWorth store in Parkdale, I notice a little flyer for a bike and trike festival in a local park, to be followed up by free movies at dusk. I immediately cancel my Saturday-night sock-washing plans to roll on down past Lansdowne to a spot just north of Queen officially named after Albert Crosland but commonly called the Fuller Street park.The sun is setting and children are racing around the dry wading pool on scooters, bikes and tiny feet. Mothers are cradling infants whose ages can be counted in weeks. Older kids are playing basketball at the other end of this precious strip of public space next to the alley in back of Cattlemen's Meat Market. Voracious mosquitoes are making the most of the gathering crowd.
A popcorn machine and a projector are set up on a picnic table. The images are projected onto a white screen clipped onto one panel of a wooden fence painted with jungle plants, monkeys and elephants, so it's as if the scene has come to life.
The first film, an Eastern European animation of an Italian tale about a magic pasta pot, is intermittently blocked by rapscallions who eventually figure out how to work their hands into the onscreen spaghetti. At one point, the projectionist foils the shadow-makers by angling the cartoon up into the trees.
No one gets yelled at, and the audience finally settles down. I don't know if films produced in the 1970s were shot in shades of orange or have turned that colour with age, but they're easy to identify. I wonder how many bullfrog actors were sacrificed for the story of the amphibian who escapes from the pocket of a boy's wide-lapelled jacket to wreak havoc in Le Grand Restaurant.
The projectionist deems an NFB paper polar bear piece too dull for the crowd and pulls it. "Sorry, bad choice." Incredibly, he has another orangey 70s short starring tortured frogs. A lack of live frogs to devour the mosquitoes drives me back home to my dirty socks, but I am thoroughly impressed by this unique (as in, there is no other) program of free films screened every Saturday night all summer.
When Phil Capone grew up in Parkdale, there were four movie theatres. They are all gone. What is now the ThriftTown used clothing store was the Odeon. There were long lineups for the cinema on the corner of Triller. He particularly remembers the Tecumseth at Dufferin, where on Saturday afternoons children got three movies and a bag of popcorn for 25 cents.
Although he no longer lives in Parkdale, he still works there managing properties owned by his father. He recognized a few years ago that the park on Fuller had become far too dangerous for children. He says knives, guns, drugs and prostitution had taken over the space. Capone and concerned locals initiated the rehabilitation of the park. "It's not like we got baseball bats and chased them away. We said, "Join us,' and they helped us paint the fence. A lot of them were really artistic."
In 1996 he started showing movies on summer Saturday nights, involving the youth in setting up the screen and projector. Run on a voluntary basis, the film night received a donation last year from the Parkdale-Liberty Economic Development Corporation. It was no more than $500, but Capone says they didn't spend that much, so he returned the unused funds. This year they got another $500, but next summer they'll be back to fundraising.
Because he now resides in Thornhill, Capone counts on the assistance of Parkdale resident Iraj C/havoshi. (Immigration lost the original C on his surname.) Havoshi met Capone when he was looking for a site to set up a free bike clinic for local kids. He offered to clean out the garage owned by Capone's father on the alley facing the park in exchange for the use of the space. Capone soon discovered that no one could be more ideally suited to running an al fresco cinema.
Born in Iran, Havoshi got his first projector when he was eight years old. He screened Three Stooges movies and films banned from TV because they showed cartoon characters kissing. From age five, he attended military school, and when he was 11 he was forced to go to war against Iraq. After being injured, he ran away to Pakistan, where he quickly learned Urdu to blend in. It took three intensive interviews, tracing his route on maps, to convince the UN there that he was an Iranian refugee. He was sent to the YMCA, under whose auspices he began showing movies to Afghanis in refugee camps.
The films, meant as educational and ESL tools, came from the Canadian Corps and an NFB source in Karachi and featured such characters as animated blood vessels and bacteria. Havoshi's facility with languages led to work as a guide. He toured, showing films in refugee camps throughout India and Afghanistan. In 1990, he came to Canada and learned English. In Toronto, he sold hot dogs, started Parkdale Cycle Express, designed a bike trailer and became a cycle-powered landscaper for the BIA. His new reno business is called Husband to Rent.
Havoshi is frustrated by the rapidly diminishing availability of films. Libraries have offloaded most of theirs, and a phone call confirms that 16mm films "are being phased out." Luckily, York University picked up 3,000 of the dumped NFB titles.
"I give an order for 20 films,' Havoshi says, "and maybe I get five of them -- the most boring. Kids want something gross, disgusting, not Bible stories about Moses." Animation, cartoons and silent films are crucial for eliminating language barriers. Even if there's no audience, Havoshi shows the films. "Do you project in the rain?" I ask. "Depends what kind of rain."
Anyone holding suitable reels of fun might consider bringing them to the Fuller Street park. @@@@@