Westport’s Tivoli Cinemas, one of the metro’s last art houses, closed its doors Friday after 36 years of operation.
The cinema was a haven for small, independent artistic films that weren’t traditionally played in mainstream movie theaters. The Tivoli sought exclusive runs for films that were not being screened at any nearby cinemas, which eventually became more of an obstacle for the theater and less of a selling point.
According to Mitch Brian, a UMKC film professor who has held classes at the Tivoli for several years, there are a number of reasons for the theater’s closing.
“They can no longer have exclusive runs of the kinds of movies that audiences expect at the Tivoli,” said Brian. “Numbers are down, and there’s a feeling that there’s a need for a lot of renovations and changes that they can’t really afford to make.”
The Cinemark theater on the Plaza has been a major competitor of the Tivoli in recent years.
“Cinemark would get movies that the Tivoli would normally get, but the policy at the Tivoli wasn’t to share movies with somebody who was 10 blocks away. They wanted exclusives,” Brian explained.
However, the Plaza Cinemark may also soon be closing its doors, a move that Brian believes could have potentially saved the small, independently-owned theater.
“With the Cinemark gone, that probably would’ve opened up, at least for the summer or foreseeable future, some other opportunities for some other films, but it didn’t seem to happen in time,” Brian said.
UMKC had an active contract with the Tivoli for a few decades, and the theater hosted nearly all of the university’s film classes during that time. During some semesters, there could be upwards of four or five classes being taught at the Tivoli, according to Brian.
“It’s very sudden, and it’s very sad,” said Brian. “We’ve had thousands of students come through those doors, and it has been a really amazing place to study film. It felt like my home. I was there so much and everybody was so nice, and seemed to like having us in there. It was so special.”
Brian explained that, initially, the university paid for its contract with the Tivoli through PACE (Program for Adult College Education), but due to the sweeping budget cuts that have affected the entire University of Missouri system, PACE’s budget was eliminated.
This action led to uncertainty about the future of UMKC’s professional relationship with the Tivoli. However, due to the bond that the theater had with UMKC and the film professors, the theater’s owner agreed to a cheaper contract to keep film classes at the cinema, according to Brian.
Now that the theater is closing, the university is being forced to relocate this semester’s film classes back to the Volker campus, where they will continue to be held for the foreseeable future. The university is looking at spaces in the Miller-Nichols Learning Center and the Education Building to hold the classes, according to Brian.
Brian is disappointed that his film classes will now have to be held in a classroom or lecture hall, as he believes that film is much better taught and learned in a traditional cinema. Brian expressed his wish that UMKC build a proper movie theater space on campus in which to hold future film classes.
The traditional art house theater is a dying breed, due to larger, corporatized movie theater chains acquiring a greater number of smaller independent films. The closing of the Tivoli marks not only the closing of a chapter for UMKC’s film program, but for the entire Kansas City artistic community. It could also be a distressing omen for local small business owners who rely on the consistent patronage of the community in an increasingly corporate, franchised world.