Daniel Kamil has co-owned the Cable Car Cinema & Caf√© with his wife, Rachel, since October 2008. He hails from New York City, went to school in Buffalo and lived in Los Angeles for eight years, but ended up pursuing his interest in running a movie theater in Rhode Island. The Cable Car is the home of the Providence French Film Festival, which will run from February 19 to March 1; Brown's French Language Committee Chair, Shoggy Waryn, explains the festival here after Kamil's take on the theater as a whole.
This week, Kamil sat down in the Cable Car Caf√© to talk to the Independent. With a knit cap topping off his round face and a brightly-colored scarf wound around his neck, the bespectacled media buff began by relating a little of his personal history.
So what did you do when you lived in Los Angeles?
All kinds of things, really. One year I worked on the Super Bowl as a production assistant. I did a little bit of writing, I worked on a show called Chicago Hope, I produced an indie film. It was great, I really saw how things get made.
Did you find the Los Angeles reputation to be true--the grossness of it, like the celebrity culture and materialism?
You know, there are all these things said about Los Angeles--that it's not an intellectual place, that it doesn't have a center--but that's true and it isn't true. Yes, the shadow of the entertainment industry covers and colors a lot, but there are a lot of incredibly creative people there, artists and writers. My wife, Rachel, and I bought a bungalow in Echo Park because the houses reminded us of the East Coast, these Craftsman-style houses.
How did you meet Rachel?
I met her through a mutual friend in LA. She's from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and we decided to come back because we knew we'd never see our families otherwise. So since I'm from New York, and she's from Cambridge, we split the difference and ended up here.
Had you ever been to Providence before?
Yeah, in the early to mid-nineties Rachel's father was the dean of architecture at RISD.
At what point did you decide to own a theater?
Well, it had always been something I knew I wanted to do, and I thought it would be an interesting way to continue to pursue what I had been doing, without specifically being involved in the production of media.
Rachel and I started scouting for locations in Providence in 2001, but for several reasons, we weren't able to find one we liked. We ended up opening a theater in Westerly [located in the far Southwest corner of Rhode Island] in 2003. It was called the Revival House; it was in this old building in a little town--we did the renovations ourselves and lived upstairs. It was a micro-cinema, really, 60 seats. We showed mostly second-run classics on a quarterly schedule.
Why Westerly? Is it secretly a really happening place?
No, but we liked the idea of imbuing this place with new energy and life. See, Westerly is really near Watch Hill, which is like a smaller-scale Newport. A lot of people from Greenwich, CT and New York own second homes there. Westerly gets huge in the summer, the population triples, and it's just this great, functioning small town; there's actually the classic Main Street. Rachel and I were really interested in investing our money and time into exploring what it's like to invigorate a small town.
So, how did you end up at the Cable Car?
By 2006, the price of real estate had gone up so much that an offer was made that we really couldn't say no to. We came back to Providence and started figuring out what to do.
The Cable Car has been around since 1976; we just started managing it October 1 of last fall. Before us, it had been pretty steadily run by a family, starting with Albert Bilodeau. Its most recent incarnation was run by his son, Eric. He gets the lion's share of the credit for the reputation this theater has, for being listed as one of Entertainment Weekly's Top 10 Theaters. He really had a handle on knowing what people would want to watch.
Who's responsible for the programming now? What's the process?
I do the programming. It's a balance, because we're running a business so we, you know, have to bring movies people will come see. A great example of how that didn't happen was with this movie that I decided to bring called Ballast. It had great critical reviews, but its subject matter was heavy and it has an all-unknown African-American cast. And nobody came. I felt good about taking the programming risk, but at the end of the day, there is the money side of it.
For every Ballast, though, there's a Milk, an indie movie with stars in it. There're always crowds for movies like that. People funding these movies always want to hedge their bets and make sure they'll get their money back, so they want stars. But do people go see movies with stars? [pause] Yeah, I guess they do.
When did your interest in the media start?
In college at SUNY-Buffalo, I was taking classes with Tony Conrad, who made these avant-garde experimental films, so I guess he turned me on to that. But even before then, I was a television kid.
So as a kid, you knew you wanted to work in television?
Not exactly. This is a good little story: I'm on the beginning of every Candid Camera episode. When I was five, Allen Funt [the creator and host of Candid Camera] came to my kindergarten. He asked the class if anyone was celebrating a birthday, and I was. These three five-year-olds--I guess two other kids with birthdays that were close were picked, too--were brought into a really long room with a really long table, and on the table was a birthday cake. We were told to blow out the candles on three; one, two, three, we blow, and the whole cake moves all the way down the table. As a five-year old, you know, I thought this was the funniest thing I'd ever seen. They used a clip of me for the opening credits, so you know, I'm actually a failed child star!
That was my first real exposure to TV. And they gave me fifty bucks! But I will say, it's all been downhill for birthday cakes from there.
Let me get things in order--when you graduated from SUNY-Buffalo, you moved straight to LA?
No. I travelled the world for a little over a year, actually. I spent three months in Hawaii, then I went to New Zealand for nine months.
What did you do there? Hang out with sheep?
No, I worked in theater as an actor. I also made some money teaching people about American accents. I loved New Zealand; it makes me think of what the United States must have been like after World War II. It just wasn't jaded the way our country is, and there's only three million people. I was able to hitchhike everywhere! There wasn't the same level of fear, of anxiety that there seems to be in the United States.
Outside of the Cable Car, what are you and Rachel up to now?
Both Rachel and I went back to school; she's in the interior design department at RISD and I'm getting my MA in media studies at the New School.
Wait, so you commute to New York?
Yeah, I try and squeeze all my classes into a single day. Right now I'm actually taking this great class on death in the media. We started off with Freud, a lot of psychology, and how people have this denial of death. But the best part is that we get to discuss stuff like, um, what was that Super Bowl commercial with the Grim Reaper? It was for H&R Block! Like, why would someone use the Grim Reaper to sell tax services?
So let's talk about what's coming up at the Cable Car starting February 19: the Providence French Film Festival. How much involvement do you have?
It's really all done by Brown's French department; we just provide the space. You'll have to talk to them.
THUS, A FEW WORDS FROM SHOGGY WARYN:
How did the Providence French Film Festival start?
It was started 12 years ago by a lecturer in French studies named Sylvie Toux.
How long have you been involved? What do you do?
I've been involved since 2001. I'm a member of the committee, which chooses the 18 films every year that we want to show. This is quite an exceptional year, actually, in that we usually have to show a lot of movies that came out a year ago, so that we can order the DVDs. But this year, we will be premiering a lot of movies that haven't ever been shown in the United States.
How does the committee find movies for the festival?
We have our feelers out; friends of ours will tip us off to things, we read the reviews. We also keep tabs on the Toronto Film Festival, as that's a nice pipeline for Francophone films. There are some French producers, too, who will send us their movies.
How do you decide which movies to show?
Well, we're fairly selective. We try to keep an eye to both sides, to what people would want to see and to what could open up eyes. Some years, we try to have a great classic French film, but we're not doing that this year. In general, we try to include as much of the Francophone world as possible; this year, we have three African films and four Quebecois films.
Really, we are fairly big, in terms of diversity. We don't want to be Cannes; we'd like to be off-Cannes. We're looking for what's slightly offbeat, not the mainstream. We want to fill the gap between the way French cinema is typically viewed and what it actually is.
Well how about dinner and a movie, GILLIAN BRASSIL B'12?