For nearly three decades, vintage film buffs in Toronto have filed into a makeshift theatre inside the Bathurst St. home of Reg Hartt to watch everything from uncensored Bugs Bunny cartoons to Nazi propaganda films.
Their host, an iconic film archivist, writer and alternative movie house operator with an international reputation, is now facing child pornography charges stemming from a police search of his computer in May. Hartt, who was released on bail after two days in jail last year, has continued showing films from his home as he awaits trial.
In an interview in his 17-seat home theatre Saturday, the 72-year-old denied the charges which include two counts of possessing child pornography, two counts of accessing child pornography and one count of “making available” child pornography.
“I don’t download kiddie porn,” he said.
Det.-Sgt. Paul Krawczyk, who heads Toronto Police’s child exploitation section, confirmed to the Star Saturday that Hartt’s charges followed an undercover search warrant investigation into alleged child exploitation.
Hartt says that two months before the charges were laid in May, a man he didn’t know came to one of his film screenings. He asked to use the Wi-Fi. Hartt says he provided him with access.
“That was March 18,” he says. “When the police came and charged me they said that’s when the images were downloaded. It wasn’t me doing it.”
Hartt’s lawyer, Mitch Engel, says his client has a strong defence.
“He shows movies from his home. It’s a situation where his computers are accessible to anyone who views his films.”
Police seized all the devices in Hartt’s house when they arrested him last May and found 250 images “that could be found in pornography museums around the world or reputable bookstores around the world,” Hartt says.
Hartt’s bail conditions say he cannot contact or communicate with anyone under 16 years of age unless accompanied by his “surety,” he cannot attend a public park or public swimming area, possess or use computers or devices with internet access unless for employment or seeking counsel and must not possess any images or videos of anyone under the age of 16.
It’s not the first time Hartt has had to defend himself from child pornography allegations.
A 2012, an anonymous poster campaign targeting Hartt claimed he had “possessed and displayed material of ‘children in sexual situations,’” and, in bold-type, read: “BOYS BEWARE.” Another poster alleged Hartt watched “local school kids walking home.”
Hartt told the Globe and Mail at the time that he, “acknowledges the danger he is in, noting that pedophilia is society’s great taboo.”
On Saturday, Hartt said those allegations — along with the current charges — are tied to a long-standing feud with a former housemate.
A 2014 police complaint report obtained by the Star details allegations from a man who used to live at Hartt’s home — the two men knew each other for 25 years — who moved out “after he began receiving information that Reg was recording video of young boys,” it alleges. The two men later came into conflict over competing businesses posting flyers in the city, leading to “serious allegations” between the two, the police report reads.
“I knew this day was coming,” Hartt said. “I’ve thought about shutting down. But I decided you got to man up or shut up. And I decided to man up.”
His cluttered first-floor parlour is dubbed Cineforum — a room where he screens alternative movies, holds poetry readings and cultural gatherings that have attracted Torontonians since the early 1990s. Set against a large screen and grey reclining chairs, the room is filled with classic movie posters and film memorabilia from Frankenstein’s mask to a statue of Daffy Duck.
Hartt claims a full library of films from Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers and Greta Garbo — a collection that draws an audience most nights of the week, he says.
It’s the place that has made Hartt a prominent, often polarizing cultural figure in the city, praised by many for his encyclopedic knowledge of film and targeted by city officials and critics for his unusual methods.
His candid writing on his website delves into his youth in New Brunswick (where he says he grew up “hating myself” as a gay person), his move to Toronto with his family as a teen, his deep spiritual faith and his life’s work as a film archivist.
In a 2016 post on his website, he defines Cineforum this way: “It is a combination of Plato’s Symposia (drinking parties where ideas were discussed often followed by sexual encounters between the participants who were male), First Century Christianity (which has none of the attitudes toward ordinary people and sex we find from 3rd Century on), the SALONS of the 17th, 18th, 19th and early 20th century.”
Hartt’s movie-screening career actually dates back to the 1960s when he began showing films in a sequence of downtown Toronto venues that brought growing profile and attracted cultural luminaries such as the late urbanist Jane Jacobs. Over the years the sometimes combative impresario has had repeated run-ins with the city over this film showings and the ubiquitously-plastered posters advertising his events which prompted threats of shutdown.
“For the last twenty years the City Of Toronto seems to have been doing everything in its power to curtail my work,” reads a Jan. 17 post on Hartt’s website. “This despite the fact that that work has won and is winning praise from around the world … I’m beginning to see it is time I got the f— out of Toronto.”
The next court appearance to set a date for trial is scheduled for Feb. 15.
Robert Cribb can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @thecribby