Sunday, May 06, 2012

Farewell to the Cumberland

It was announced on Friday that the Cumberland Theatre, which at one point was the main arthouse cinema in Toronto, would close its doors at the end of today.

It's definitely sad news, but at least the theatre gets to go out with a bang instead of a whimper.  Today is the final day of Hot Docs and eight screenings are scheduled at the Cumberland, including one of the award winners.  I myself will be going to the 1:15pm screening of The Job.  In addition, there are still the normal screenings of A Separation and Footnote, which will ensure that the Cumberland remains busy until the bitter end.

When I fully embraced my passion for cinema a decade or so ago, I started to become more interested in independent and foreign films, which I found are often much more enjoyable than the disposable mainstream fare that I would see at the multiplex.  In 2005, a little film called Brick caught my attention.  It was a high school-set film noir, starring a then obscure Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  I most definitely wanted to see the film, though it only opened at one theatre in Toronto - the Cumberland.  Brick was my formal introduction to this Yorkville cinema and I made it my goal ever since to keep an eye on what was playing at the Cumberland and it return on a periodic basis (I even got an Alliance Cinemas membership for admission discounts).

I was actually already quite familiar with the Cumberland before I ever saw a film there.  Whenever I saw a independent film listed in the newspaper, it would nearly always be playing at the Cumberland.  I also equated the theatre with the Toronto International Film Festival.  When the festival was stationed in and around Yorkville, the Cumberland was one of the central venues (along with the Uptown and Varsity).  In fact, I came to think of the Cumberland as the place where I could see festival-type films during the year.

It was obvious for the last few years that the Cumberland was running on borrowed time.  The first nail in the coffin was when TIFF started to move further downtown with the opening of the Bell Lightbox and stopped using the Yorkville venues (Cumberland was retired first, followed by the Varsity).  In addition, Cineplex took over the Cumberland and decided to remove it somewhat from its arthouse roots and began playing some more mainstream films at the theatre.  In addition, the theatre no longer had the cheap ticket prices that made it so enticing in the first place.

I slowly stopped going to the Cumberland over the last couple of years, with me instead seeing arthouse films at either the Bell Lightbox or Varsity.  Before going to three films their for Hot Docs, the last film I saw at the Cumberland was The Trip last summer.

It's definitely sad to see the Cumberland go and I'm at least happy that I will get to see one final film at the cinema before it shuts its doors.