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What to expect when The Egyptian’s cleaned-up curtain rises following 25-year SIFF intermission

(Image courtesy Serena Preston - SIFF)

(Image courtesy Serena Preston – SIFF)

In Capitol Hill: The Movie, the best characters are never truly dead.

Not two years after Landmark Theaters shut the doors on the historic Egyptian Theatre, the Seattle International Film Festival will present a re-boot of the much-loved Capitol Hill movie venue. SIFF will re-open the newly renovated 99-year-old building at 801 E Pine this week for program members and follow that with a weekend-long celebration of the theater’s past, future and its place in Seattle.

“The timing is perfect right now,” Carl Spence, artistic director at SIFF said. “We’re preserving a venue that we created to begin with.”

The building, constructed in 1915, served as a masonic lodge ballroom. It changed hands multiple times over the years until SIFF originally turned it into a movie theater in 1980.

Now, returning to the 600-seat theatre, the organization wants to copy the same tactics it used in the 2011 opening of the SIFF Uptown. The theatre will run with daily showings and take part in year-round events.

“We’re exploring what will work,” Spence said. “We’re also having to re-establish it into the market. If it’s cinematic and fits our aesthetic, we’ll show it.”

That aesthetic will rule October 3rd to 5th, when the now-named SIFF Cinema Egyptian plays a host of eclectic films that explores the theatre’s previous success. From Amélie, the theatre’s longest running film, to Kagemusha, the Akira Kurosawa classic that first opened the venue, film goers will have a variety of classics and cult favorites to see.

After that, SIFF promises a return of midnight movies as well as greater participation in local events, beginning with a Tom Douglas-helmed screening of The Breach benefitting  SIFF and a Bristol Bay nonprofit and the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival which starts October 9th. The venue’s first screening of a “current release” feature hasn’t yet been announced.

SIFF announced that it signed the 10-year lease on the Egyptian in May and launched a $300,000 donation drive through the late spring festival to save it.

“It was really very successful,” SIFF managing director Mary Bacarella said of the campaign. “We had a very generous anonymous donor who pledged $150,000 if we could match it. We hit our goal and even more.”

That money gave SIFF the opportunity to improve the outside and the inside of the aged building.

“The bulk when into projection and sound,” Spence said.

SIFF will retain the 35mm projection equipment on site in order to offer showings of older prints. Funding for the campaign also allowed for a large-scale renovation of the whole space.

City Hall also put up $75,000 to help with capital improvements including new repaired seats in the Seattle Central-owned venue.

“The entire thing has been spruced up, cleaned and painted,” Bacarella said. “It has a new concessions area, new cabinets, new digital signs and we can sell beer and wine. We do what we do best — and that’s film.”

They described this opening process of the Egyptian as “phase one”, which includes holding some funding for beginning operating costs as well.

“We’ve done a lot to really renew it and make it work again,” Spence said. “We’re excited to make it work financially, because it wasn’t really working financially before.”

Bacarella said the buzz they created through this year’s festival helped create demand and showed SIFF how important the theatre remains to the neighborhood.

“We loved to be able to talk about the opening during festival,” she said. “It has such a rich history with SIFF. It got our community excited and it got Capitol Hill excited.”

They said a ‘phase two’ remains relatively undefined for the future.

Amelie is on the bill this weekend as part of the Egyptian's grand re-opening

Amelie is on the bill this weekend as part of the Egyptian’s grand re-opening

SIFF Cinema Egyptian will join the other local film theaters in the including the Harvard Exit Theatre, the Northwest Film Forum, and Central Cinema.

Courtney Sheehan, program director at the Northwest Film Forum, welcomed the return of the neighbor, which sits only a few blocks away.

“Frequently, it is an assumption that it’s a competition,” she said. “My first question is ‘Is it a competition?'”

She said the greater exposure that the neighborhood receives from the film community, the better it would be to promote good cinema and good filmmakers. Sheehan also said the NWFF wants to continue its role as a “forum” beyond screening movies. NWFF continues to expand its offerings. In October, it plans to begin its first kids film club at the 12th Ave venue and a schedule of classes includes citizen journalism and harnessing devices like drones for cinema and videography.

“They are a film theater whereas we are a film center,” Sheehan said. “We teach a lot of classes and hold a lot of other events.”

Spence agreed that the sheer availability of theaters benefits film lovers in the neighborhood.

“The more cinemas, the better it is for everyone in terms of getting people to come see movies,” he said. “There are now three places on Capitol Hill.”

Both Spence and Bacarella spoke with appreciation for the community that helped SIFF reopen the unique Capitol Hill landmark.

“I’m just so excited that the Egyptian is being brought back to life,” Spence said. “When you’re inside that theater, it’s just so majestic. It has ambience and character — it’s just one of those places.”

It will also now have beer and wine. Part of the upgrades from SIFF include an overhaul of the theater-going experience to catch up with the times.

Though SIFF vacated the Egyptian almost 25 years ago, it could seem like a homecoming for the growing organization.

But, as Spence puts it, “We never really left.”

SIFF Cinema Egyptian celebrates the grand reopening of the theater starting Friday, October 3rd with a weekend of indie classics, free and discounted admissions, and more surprises. You can learn more at

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5 thoughts on “What to expect when The Egyptian’s cleaned-up curtain rises following 25-year SIFF intermission

  1. Pingback: Capitol Hill’s Hugo House makes mixed-use plans to stay on 11th Ave | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle

  2. My free (and possibly terrible) advice for Phase Two: turn the really big, mostly-unused outer lobby & concessions area into a bar, cafe, or something to generate business aside from screenings. A little film lounge might give some life to the place.

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  4. Pingback: Sneak preview: Inside Capitol Hill’s SIFF Cinema Egyptian | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle