‘Oh my God, what is this?’: Bad movie nights return to the Ottawa Public Library

It’s not uncommon to hear conversations, jokes, and laughter during free movie screenings.

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There are many reasons to like a bad movie, including its unintentional humor and its cheesiness. But one thing that can make a bad movie really good, says Steve Tennant, is its seriousness.

Tennant is practically an expert on bad movies. He is one of the organizers of Ottawa Bad Movie Nights, a group that is almost a decade old and is making a comeback post-pandemic. Along with the Ottawa Public Library, the group presents monthly screenings of some of the worst and best films ever made.

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Past screenings include The Room, an infamous love triangle movie that has been repeatedly named the worst movie ever made.

“We laugh at someone who simply tries too hard. You say, ‘Oh my God, what is this?'” Tennant said. “It’s so obvious that (the director) wanted this to be his Citizen Kane.”

The Room also highlights another aspect of bad movies that makes them popular: how participatory they are. It is not unusual to hear conversations, jokes and laughter during the screening of a bad movie.

“When we go to normal theaters, you don’t really participate with the people around you. You are a captive audience. Bad movies are more participatory. “We are all there voluntarily, held back by this shit, but we are all together to laugh about it.”

That collective experience is what has given Bad Movie Nights’ main driving force, Al Dumas, the drive to organize the events since 2014.

“I think it’s fun to set the stage and get people together and then sit back and just watch them,” he said.

Whenever money needs to be exchanged, such as to get the rights to a film, Dumas pays for it himself. The group has occasionally held a fundraiser, but Dumas said he prefers to pay so guests don’t feel uncomfortable or pressured.

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“I want people to not care about (money),” he said. “Just show up and get into it.”

Screenings often begin with classic cartoons, concession stand ads that viewers would have seen decades ago, and, as Tennant says, “some really choice piece of an old-fashioned public service announcement from the 1950s.”

“All kinds of random things,” Tennant said. “It kind of takes you back to yesteryear, to the movie experience where you go to see a movie and there might be a 15-minute Looney Tunes cartoon to calm everyone down before you jump into the big production.”

Ottawa Bad Movie Night was once reaping the fruits of years of effort. Nearly 200 people attended one of their biggest events in 2018: a screening of Samurai Cop, a 1991 direct-to-video action movie that was so bad it achieved cult classic status that led to a sequel in 2015: Samurai . Police 2: Deadly revenge. (Don’t be fooled by the 93% Rotten Tomatoes score, it’s bad.)

But then the pandemic hit and forced Bad Movie Nights to go online. Coming back from lockdown wasn’t the same as starting from scratch, but they had certainly lost momentum. Even after a year and a half back from live events, Dumas says people are still surprised to learn that these events are still happening. Numbers have since dwindled to between 20 and 40 spectators. “I guess the word hasn’t gotten out.”

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There are many circumstances that may prevent past attendees from returning, Dumas says, including the fact that fewer and fewer people are traveling downtown. But his impression is that Bad Movie Night has been growing little by little.

“The last event was very well attended,” Dumas said of the 55 people who came to see Disco Godfather perform in February. “It seemed like old times and I hope it stays that way, because that’s what it’s all about. “It’s about bringing people together and having fun.”

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