As Cinemas Close and Streaming Booms, Tel Avivians Do the Right Thing and Open a Movie House

'Netflix is pretty bad in my opinion' said one filmgoer at the new 'Canada Cinema,' which for now will operate on weekends only

Eyal Roe, left, and Ido Gavish. 'We don’t want it to be big and grandiose, we want it to be local and neighborhood-oriented'
Meged Gozani

At 6:42 P.M., just minutes before the audience arrived, one of the guys was still cleaning the entrance. Eyal Roe arrived in a blue button-down shirt and was immediately dispatched to deal with the popcorn stand. He put oil into the machine and the kernels began to pop. He offered his partner, Ido Gavish, a white button-down shirt, but Ido refused to wear it, claiming that this wasn’t a bar mitzvah.

It was more of a bris: the festive opening of the new 'Canada Cinema', named after David Perlov, the late prominent Israeli documentary filmmaker. The movie house is located at the edge of Tel Aviv’s trendy Florentin neighborhood, on Hatzerim Street, between two tin shacks. Roe, 19 and Gavish, 20, are the two young men behind this surprising and delightful initiative.

Last May it was reported that one of Tel Aviv's long standing cinemas, Rav Hen, may soon screen its last picture show. “When Rav Hen closes," explains Roe, "there will be only 3 cinemas and 11 movie screens left in Tel Aviv, five at the Cinematheque, five at 'Lev' (in Dizengoff Center) and one at the Tel Aviv Museum of Arts. We are the 12th screen".

“We really love cinema and all the existing frameworks don’t enable creativity that is more spontaneous, unique and honest,” he adds.

Canada Cinema. The quality of the screening was good.
Meged Gozani

Judging by the inaugural event, which was preceded by a fund-raising drive, there is apparently a demand for such an initiative. The theater, with 13 rows and a total of 50 seats, quickly filled up at the 7 P.M. and 9 P.M. debut showings. The price of a ticket, purchased on the theater’s Facebook page, is 25 shekels ($7).

The two young entrepreneurs, who studied film in high school – Roe at the Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts in Givatayim, and Gavish at Tel Aviv's Ironi Alef High School of the Arts – chose to inaugurate the 'Canada Cinema' with the screening of the first two parts of Perlov’s iconic 1983 film, “Diary” (“Yoman”), which documents the everyday life of the filmmaker and his family, on the backdrop of Israel of the 1970s and early '80s. The choice of this work was undoubtedly a declaration of intentions regarding the films that are to be screened at the new venue.

At the beginning of the film, Perlov’s voice is heard with his familiar, polished and formal narration: “May 1973, I buy a camera. I want to start filming, by myself and for myself. Professional cinema no longer attracts me. To look for something else. I want to approach the everyday. Above all in anonymity."

Roe and Gavish evidently identify with those sentiments.

“We don’t want it to be big and grandiose, we want it to be local and neighborhood-oriented,” says Roe about the decision to open the theater – and with Perlov's, of all films, which demands a degree of patience from the viewers, especially the post-modern ones. Asked whether commercial films will also be screened, Gavish says that “there are also commercial films that are personal, but we’re look for the personal.”

Filmgoers at Canada Cinema. 'Netflix is pretty bad in my opinion, you exhaust it quite quickly'
Meged Gozani

The two insist that people still like going to the movies. "Watching television, no matter how big the set it – it’s not a gathering in order to experience a story, which is something many people are looking for ultimately,” says Gavish.

For now the theater will operate on weekends only. This past weekend there was Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing,” (1989) and Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant” (2002).

'Netflix is pretty bad'

Perlov’s daughters, Yael and Naomi, attended the opening. A framed picture of their father had been hung up next to the popcorn stand, peering over those entering. Yael Perlov, a film editor who worked on “Diary” with her father, who passed away in 2003, was excited.

“It’s exactly what my father would have dreamed about,” Perlov says. “A small neighborhood theater, the antithesis of the large movie theater that tries to please. A place people will come to because they really want to see film. The only thing that hurts me is that he’s not here to see it. It still hurts.

“I grew up in such movie theaters,” she continues. “I would sit for hours in them – my entire cinematic education is sitting in a theater with 50 seats, sometimes even an empty theater, seeing all the cinema that I grew up on. It’s sacred – this screen is sacred.

“It’s not even a cinematheque, it’s a cineclub,” adds Perlov. “When I lived in Paris, Dad told me ‘Go to those cineclubs, go see all that cinema,' and that’s really what I did.”

A scene from Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.” Screened at the Canada Cinema.
The Picture Desk / Universal / T

She says that she immediately agreed to Roe and Gavish’s request to name the place after her father. “I don’t know if I would have done that had they opened a movie theater in central Tel Aviv, I’m not sure I would have agreed so fast. But there is this feeling of authenticity.”

Quite a number of those attending the debut are acquaintances of Gavish and Roe from high school. There's a very hipster dress code; secondhand clothing, shorts and ankle socks. Two young blond women are among the first to sit down in the long, narrow theater. Ahinoam and Alma, both 21, are graduates of the dance track at Thelma Yellin – students of Naomi Perlov, a former dancer and well-known dance teacher.

The two say they like to go to the movies, and usually opt for the Cinematheque or Lev Dizengoff. “It’s still something people do,” says Ahinoam, a member of the Avshalom Pollak Dance Theater. Alma, who dances with the Batsheva Ensemble, adds that she would be happy if she had more time see movies.

From a few conversations, it seems that a lot of those present aren't really interested in Netflix. (Not surprisingly, Perlov's work can’t be found there.)

“Netflix is pretty bad in my opinion, you exhaust it quite quickly,” says Itamar Peres, 17, from Tel Aviv. “In Netflix, in Israel at least, there are very scant offerings.”

Omer Ditur, 20, also from Tel Aviv, agrees: “I watch Netflix on my phone, I also see lots of shit on Netflix, lots of it, but it's fun and helps me pass the time sometimes.”

A self portrait of David Perlov.

“We want to see cinema that isn’t necessarily only mainstream, what’s coming out now and also at very high prices,” adds Peres. “It’s really nice that there’s finally something that offers a solution for other genres and for things that are less familiar, too."

Odelia Atlsovitch, 21, studies film at the Minshar School of Art in Tel Aviv. “I think this is a wonderful initiative,” she says. “They still have a way to go, but this could start something new just now when there’s a kind of great emptiness and everyone watches Netflix. Just when there’s nothing, I think people are looking to see something else.”

The Tel Aviv cinema world may not be completely representative, but even official figures still indicate that millennials and members of GenZ have not given up on the silver screen. A survey by the Motion Picture Association of America conducted among 8,000 North Americans showed that it was actually young people, aged 12 to 17 and 18 to 24, who purchased the highest number of movie tickets in 2018: for an average of about five films.

We can assume, of course, that we’re talking here about box-office hits like “The Avengers” or “The Black Panther,” rather than indie films.

The same survey showed that 43 million people attended the movies in North America last year on a relatively frequent basis – that is, at least once a month. The largest number of viewers, 10 million, were in the 25- to 39-year-old group; there were 5.6 million viewers in the 18-to-25 category.

In another survey, conducted in 2017 by the U.S. ticket-selling company Fandango among 1,500 people aged 18 to 34, 86 percent said they were planning to see at least two films that year in a movie theater; 34 percent said they were planning to see four or more. The company claimed that 41 percent of its monthly audience was composed of millennials.

A few glitches

Back to Tel Aviv, Atlsovitch was correct in her diagnosis that the two young entrepreneurs still have “a way to go.” Although the quality of the screening was good at the Canada Cinema, it was somewhat hot in the theater; apparently, the air conditioner barely reached the back rows. At first I thought it was mid-thirties hot flashes, but at the end of the showing I heard the younger people complaining, too. I felt better.

Eyal Roe, left, and Ido Gavish at the entrance to their cinema. 'Existing frameworks don’t enable creativity that is more spontaneous, unique and honest.'
Meged Gozani

“The film conquers everything,” were the complimentary words heard afterward among viewers, regarding the choice of Perlov. They apparently didn't want the opening conditions in the new theater to discourage the entrepreneurs.

That evening, Perlov’s Tel Aviv, of the 1970s, blended with 2019 Tel Aviv. The young film students from Tel Aviv University, who had appeared on the screen a moment beforehand in the documentary, were replaced by young art lovers gathered outside the Canada Cinema in Florentin, with sparkling eyes.

“It’s so minimalist, composed of such small things,” comments Michael, 17, a student at Hakfar Hayarok, a school for gifted students, who saw “Diary” for the first time. "It lasts for two hours with only a voice-over and amorphous visual shots. It really worked in my opinion. It’s so nice to see minimalist art.”