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Sayonara, Cumberland via NOW Daily

May 6, 2012

Without a theatre, that stretch of Cumberland in Yorkville will never be quite the same.

It’s not ironic, exactly, but it feels terribly unfair. Just hours after Hot Docs attendees, programmers and filmmakers assembled to protest the Harper government’s arts cuts in front of the ROM, the news broke that the Cumberland Cinemas – just up the block from the protest – would be closing up shop this Sunday night.

Opened by Famous Players in the early 80s, acquired by Alliance Atlantis in 1999 and then sold to Cineplex in 2005, the four-screen multiplex nestled underneath a Yorkville office tower has been a cornerstone of Toronto’s art-house circuit, and a key venue for the formative years of the Toronto Film Festival.

But as the 20th century moved into the 21st, the theatre’s modest auditoria, less than optimal sightlines and wonky sound became liabilities in an age of stadium seating and digital projection. Modest upgrades were made, but they felt more like Band-Aids than proper renovations, which made it seem like the Cumberland’s owner – whichever corporation that happened to be – wasn’t in it for the long haul. Rumours of the theatre’s closure were constant, if unfounded. And now they’re not rumours any more.

I haven’t seen a film there in years, but I’ll miss the Cumberland. As someone who came of cinematic age in the 1980s, it was absolutely essential to my experience of the Toronto film world. I saw the revival of John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate there in 1987 with about a quarter of my film-theory class, and plenty of TIFF titles (including Uno, the directorial debut of Headhunters star Aksel Hennie), and more press screenings than I can count.

The space is said to become “a high-end café.” (Is there an Aroma in Yorkville yet?) Whatever goes in there, it won’t be a theatre, and that stretch of Cumberland will never be quite the same.



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