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Cable Car closes after 42 years

French Film Fest reels after ‘theater with couches’ shuts doors of its 204 South Main St. Location

After 42 years of featuring films in a uniquely intimate setting, Cable Car Cinema and Cafe shut the doors of its 204 South Main St. location May 27, the owners announced in a Facebook post April 26.

The closure comes at the tail end of negotiations with the Rhode Island School of Design, which owns the building, wrote owners Daniel Kamil and Emily Steffian in the Facebook post.

Cable Car occupied the space through a 10-year lease that ends in September 2018, according to a statement from RISD. On April 16, after unsuccessful lease renewal discussions, the owners notified RISD that they would not be seeking a new lease.

“We did not come to this decision lightly,” the owners wrote.

In a statement, RISD wrote that it was “saddened” by Cable Car’s decision. The school had been in talks with the owners to explore a number of options that would allow Cable Car remain in that location, such as adding second floor or alternating usage of the space, but ultimately could not agree, Silva told the Providence Journal. The school offered Cable Car a renewal at a lowered rent, but the owners still refused the offer, RISD wrote, adding that the owners told them their decision to close was “not based on finances.”

Kamil and Steffian responded with another Facebook post asserting that Cable Car was “never formally offered any rent reduction by RISD.” The post also claimed that the theater had made three requests to purchase its Main Street building from RISD, even suggesting in May of 2017 that Cable Car be run as a nonprofit going forward. But none of these requests were accepted, the post stated.

Danielle Mancuso, senior public relations specialist at RISD, did not respond to a request for comment about RISD’s statement.  

The theater’s closing was met with nostalgia and dismay from community members.

Many Brown students know Cable Car as the host of the annual French Film Festival. Sylvie Toux, resident director of the Brown in Paris program and one of the founders of the festival, was sad to learn of Cable Car’s closing. Toux previously lived on Benefit Street, just down the road from Cable Car. A true regular, she would visit the theater twice a week to watch a film, she said.

The theater stood out to Toux due to its atmosphere — the same one that had caught the attention of patrons for decades. Audience members sat on couches rather than traditional theater seats.

When Toux started the Providence French Film Festival, she chose Cable Car over other possible venues, such as the Avon Cinema, because the kinds of movies that Cable Car showed were similar to those she wished to feature in the festival, making it the perfect choice, she said.

“(The closing) was very upsetting,” said Lewis Seifert, a professor of French studies who served as head of the department from 2011 through 2017. Cable Car had an “excellent” relationship with the department, Seifert added. As a result of the change, he is concerned about the future of the French Film Festival — even when it does find a new home, the program will probably be shorter and include fewer films, he said.

Since the owners had access to a vast, esoteric filmography, Cable Car made it possible to bring lesser-known titles to the public eye, Seifert said. This may become more difficult now after Cable Car’s closing, which is “a loss for the entire community,” he added.

Richard Blakely, research associate in French Studies and current director of the French Film Festival, noted that Cable Car was always enthusiastic about hosting and accommodating the festival. The event has drawn Brown students and members of the community every year, overflowing the theater, he said. The festival’s upcoming 22nd year will be the first time Cable Car does not host the event, he said. The next location remains uncertain, but the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts and the Avon are possibilities, he added.

Though the theater officially shut its doors at 204 South Main St. after showing the movie RBG, Cable Car has since hosted a number of screenings at different locations around Providence, such as “The Gospel According to Andre” at the Columbus Theatre.

The owners have not written off the possibility of reopening the “theater with couches” in the future, they wrote. “For the short-term, we will catch our breath, take a moment, and if the right opportunity arises — the Cable Car Cinema may emerge in another locale and in another form,” they wrote, ending their letter by noting that the closing was not a goodbye, but rather a “blackout.”


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