Living at the movie house
Lee Demarbre doesn’t have a favourite movie. He has a favourite director (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo) within a genre (actionadventure) from a specific place (Hong Kong) at a certain time (late ‘80s, early ‘90s). In a roundabout way, this makes Demarbre’s favourite movie 1987’s Eastern Condors.
Clearly Demarbre doesn’t just like movies, he lives them. For years, Demarbre, 36, made his living as a fi lmmaker – renowned in Ottawa for his Harry Knuckles series and applauded worldwide for the wrestling documentary Vampiro: Angel, Devil, Hero. Now he is working as the programmer at the Mayfair Theatre, with local film enthusiasts John Yemen, Paul Gordon and
Ian Driscoll. Getting paid to work in the industry is just a bonus for Demarbre, who has devoted his life to movies since he was a kid. Growing up in Newfoundland, he says he could only watch the delayed telecast of the Oscars if he stayed up all night. He graduated from film studies at Carleton, and has since made six feature films and more shorts than he can count. “Up until recently, I was financing my
movies myself,” Demarbre says. “I’d spend two years making them and I’d afford it as I could. I would shoot on weekends – if I could afford film.”Demarbre’s decision to make a complete scheduling about-face is one that will either make or break the venture. “We have to make between $1,000 and $2,000 a day to stay afl oat,” Demarbre says. “It’s a major grind, we have to work hard for 10 years to make this happen.” This means the Mayfair’s famous double bills and second-run Hollywood movies won’t disappear, but they won’t be the main attraction.
In honour of the recent smash, Milk, Demarbre is playing the original documentary The Life and Times of Harvey Milk. To celebrate Black History Month, the Mayfair is hosting the Ottawa premier of Africa Unite, as well as showing Malcolm X. On Feb. 22, he hosted an Academy Award gala, including a live telecast of the Oscars.
Instead of catering to the second-run market, Demarbre says he is trying to rework the Mayfair’s reputation so he can get first-run movies from the distributors.“I want the Wrestler of next year, I want the Happy-Go-Lucky premier,” Demarbre says. “I don’t want to have to wait until [major cinemas] show it. We’re better than that now.”
He has also been inviting cast and crew to appear at some screenings to introduce their movies, giving the theatre “a film festival feel.” On Feb. 20, Demarbre invited horror icon Ray Sager to introduce My Bloody Valentine as part of the Mayfair’s Filmmaker in Attendance Theatre. This innovative programming, as well as new seats, couches on the balcony and plans to apply for a liquor license are all part of Demarbre’s plan to redefi ne the theatre. “I just want people to have fun at the movies again,” Demarbre says. “I want people to get away from their home video theatres and come to the movies again. What we’re trying to provide is an experience.”