By Sacha Kingston-Wayne
Daniel Hanna’s Eyesore Cinema proves that a video store can still exist in the age of streaming.
Daniel Hanna can still recall something that happened in 2008, shortly after Eyesore Cinema first opened. Three guys, probably in their mid-20s, walked into the store and started laughing among themselves.
One of them pointed to a shelf of DVDs, then turned to Hanna and said, “Hey bro, you know you can get these on the internet, right?”
Hanna’s response: “Get the f*** out of my store, a******.”
Running a video store was nothing new for Hanna. He managed Suspect Video for years, up until the storefront burned down in a massive fire. Later that year, Eyesore Cinema was born.
Hanna says the void left by Suspect Video closing, as well as a disillusionment with the world at large, inspired him to open Eyesore. “If I live in a world which isn’t going to give me community, I’m going to create one. Stores like this, traditionally, have always been a hub.”
In the 1970s, there were many video stores in Toronto. Now there are only two remaining. Eyesore Cinema is one of them.
It’s a Saturday afternoon and Hanna is running late for our interview. A volunteer at Eyesore Cinema, a drag performer who goes by Weird Alice, is putting together gift bags for those who have bought tickets to an online film screening and drag performance they’re putting on. Alice says that they would offer to call Hanna and ask when he’s planning on showing up, but Hanna doesn’t own a cellphone.
Hanna’s choice not to own a cellphone is driven by spite for a world that demands instant gratification. “This idea that we have to be in constant availability to everybody is frightening. Everyone feels entitled to message you at any given time and expects you to answer immediately.”
When Hanna arrives, he says he’s sorry for being late, and adds that anyone who makes plans with him should show up about 15 minutes later than they agreed to meet. Alice asks if he remembered to print something off for them. He admits to forgetting, and says he’s sorry to them as well. Hanna’s only been at the store for about a minute, and he’s already had to make two apologies.
Eyesore Cinema is a small store, located about two blocks west of Dufferin station. A pleasantly musty smell hangs in the air. The walls are decorated with posters for horror flicks such as Critters and David Cronenberg’s Rabid. If you want to donate old VHS tapes, you can put them in one of two cardboard boxes conveniently located next to the cash.
There’s a 40-seat theatre in the backroom, which is closed until it is safe for filmgoers to safely gather indoors again. For now, Eyesore is hosting online screenings on a Facebook page called “Eyesore Cinema Screening Collective.”
Eyesore Cinema receives shipments of new DVDs and Blu-Rays every week. These deliveries consist mainly of highlights from the Criterion Collection (the celebrated distributor of “important classic and contemporary films”) and reissues of cult-favourite horror movies. The group of customers who pre-order these releases is small but loyal. According to Hanna, he received over 50 pre-orders for Psycho Goreman, a recently released film about two kids who “resurrect an ancient alien overlord.” That enthusiasm is a large part of what keeps a small operation like Eyesore alive.
Alex MacLeod, a regular customer at Eyesore, says he started renting there because it had films he couldn’t find anywhere else. “Eyesore is where I started finding all the weird and wonderful alternative movies that you couldn’t find at Blockbuster Video or Rogers.”
One of the reasons MacLeod keeps coming back to Eyesore is because he enjoys talking to Hanna. “Daniel is definitely a character. He’s eccentric, but in a good way. He’s entertaining, he’s not offensive, he’s not creepy, he’s just funny and full of info.”
“There will always be people who want to go to a store, who will want to flip through titles, who will want to discover things in that kind of tangible, practical way…there’s just not very many of them because the majority of people are stupid, idiotic, motherf***ing sheep who just react to whatever’s put in front of them,” says Hanna.
Another regular, Dempsey Kukko-Pulkkinen, feels that it’s been increasingly important to support the store since the start of the pandemic. “When you’re stuck in your house and only watching the same seven things over and over and running out of stuff which piques your interest on streaming services, renting from Eyesore contributes to a healthy media diet.”
In Hanna’s mind, new technology streaming services – smartphones and the internet as a whole, has a mostly negative effect on the world, and he’s not afraid to rant and rave about it. He refers to the internet as “hands down, the single worst thing to happen to society, ever, outside of natural disasters and plagues” and “probably the worst man-made societal disaster in history.”
Hanna longs for a world that is more community-oriented. “I want people to live in communities which give a f*** about them. I’d like to see communities sticking up for worthwhile things. I’d like to see food sovereignty. I’d like to see water not being privatized.”
Despite his dislike of corporations, Hanna is able to justify using Facebook to promote Eyesore Cinema. He knows that, for many people, if you don’t have a web presence, you don’t exist. For him, Facebook is a necessary evil.
Despite Hanna’s (gradual, stubborn) willingness to adapt, Eyesore is still struggling to keep the lights on. After Hanna pays the rent at the end of the month, his bank account is back at zero and he starts all over again. Every penny goes back into keeping the doors open, whether it’s paying the suppliers or the hydro bill or property taxes.
Eyesore Cinema’s community of customers is a large part of why Hanna is still motivated to keep the store going. At the beginning of the pandemic, he wasn’t sure what to expect for his business, and was pleasantly surprised.
“I had no idea what was going to happen when we were locked down and was blown away that so many people came by to support us. People were like, ‘You’re going to get murdered, let me rent 60 movies. Sell me some T-shirts.’ We survived due to community support.”
The other reason Hanna refuses to give up is that he loves sounding off about movies all day. He tears apart David Lynch’s “self-indulgent art twaddle” and especially hates Lynch’s Eraserhead, which he refers to as “the most overrated student film I’ve ever seen.”
Even though he loves running Eyesore Cinema, Hanna is aware of his tendency to gripe about almost everything else. “Sometimes I find it easier to complain about things I don’t like than to praise things that I do.”
Eyesore Cinema is located at 1176 Bloor St. W. in Toronto, Ontario.