Recently Martin Heath celebrated his 60th birthday in proper Cinecycle style. The Coach House provided a magical atmosphere for guests; dolled up and complete with a screening of an old black and white film of the 1937 premier Royal visit to Canada. It was clear from a glance around the room, that Martin is both adored by friends and admired by artists and filmmakers as an encouraging and inspiring individual. In fact, this year Martin is the recipient of the Images Festival’s (studio 448) Tom Berner Award for “providing extraordinary support to the cause of independent filmmaking in Toronto.” Martin is honoured to receive the award and we couldn’t think of anyone more deserving.
Martin’s career is nothing short of illustrious; his bio reads like a history of independent film in Toronto. As a film print handler, projectionist and filmmaker, he has contributed his talents to most of the major independent film festivals. He is also the founder of an incarnation known as Cinecycle, which has been in operation since the 1970’s. The alternative film venue cum bike repair shop had many homes before settling here at 401.
In the early 1990’s Cinecycle’s space on Spadina was becoming too expensive and Martin was in search of another building to house the venue. At the time Christina Zeidler, then a student at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD), was a regular attendee and contributor to performances at Cinecycle. Her sister, Margie, had just bought a building, 401 Richmond St. W., and Martin Heath’s Cinecycle came up as a possible tenant. Originally there were grand plans for Cinecycle’s residence at 401. Martin had been granted $30,000 from the Toronto Arts Council with the additional promise of another $300,000 to build and operate a 200 seat theatre in the basement of the building. As Martin explains “while this was all going on the NDP government got kicked out and we got the Tories and the program that the $30,000 was coming out of evaporated. So, the Coach House was Plan B. “
Lovingly referred to as Plan B, the coach house is a small building behind 401 Richmond accessed by the back laneway. It has no address, a detail that apparently confounds many visitors, including a young woman coming to see a punk band play on the weekend who called during our interview. This is one of Cinecycle’s latest, “punk bands love the place. They’re always very polite and they’re always gone by 1:00.” Cinecycle will also host the next installment of Trampoline Hall, the monthly lecture series, previously held at the Cameron House and Gladstone Hotel.
Martin has managed to successfully merge the things he feels most passionately about, film and bicycles, and the connection between the two is a topic to which Martin has obviously given some thought. “They’re definitely connected. They both came to fruition about the same time around 1896 when the first films started to be made. That’s when safety bicycles came into use and cycling was very popular for about 15 years before the bike mechanics figured out how to make motor bikes, cars and aircraft. Before the 1890’s they were riding those penny farthing bikes…you had to be a real tear away to ride on those things, they were quite dangerous and people sort of terrorized the countryside on these high wheel bicycles. So they invented the geared bicycle with the same wheels front and back and it was called the safety bicycle. This was happening just when films were starting to be made.” Martin adds that “in film archives all over the world there are early images of cycling. It was one of the first things they took films of, people on bicycles, cause it was a new phenomenon.”
As much as Martin enjoys cycling he has had little time to go out over the past year and has missed “three proper rides.” He and nine others recently purchased 100 acres of land in the Halliburton Highlands and this is monopolizing much of his time and attention. Martin plans to build a small cabin on his part of the property and was pleased to discover that there is a spring coming out of the side of the hill, “you can drink the water – we don’t even have to drill anything.” We suggested it was a little Shangri-la to which Martin responded “yes, except it’s a little colder than Shangri-la.”
Martin is an accomplished cyclist with a special taste for a style of biking called “Randonneur.” Randonneur is a form of long-distance cycling that demands stamina and concentration in order to complete races that can last as long as five days. Martin is known among fellow cyclists for his supportive attitude. He will often stop to make sure cyclists at the side of the road are alright and even used to carry a small espresso machine in his pack to provide a pick-me-up to other racers. It seems as though Martin approaches filmmaking in much the same way he approaches cycling, with a dedication to nurturing expression and endeavour in those around him.
Martin’s future plans for Cinecycle? “I hope that we can continue here as part of 401 and continue to function as an alternative venue for off-beat events.” We hope so too, Martin.
Martin Heath, Cinecycle Founder.