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Sneak preview: Inside Capitol Hill’s SIFF Cinema Egyptian

(Images: CHS)

(Images: CHS)

IMG_2896The smell of freshly popped popcorn wafting out onto E Pine and a line of giddy moviegoers stretching around the block onto Harvard can only signal one thing: The Egyptian is back.

After having shuttered its doors for over a year, the Capitol Hill movie theater officially reopens Friday.

Earlier this week, the Egyptian got a head start on its new life with a VIP invite-only celebratory flurry of complimentary champagne, salted caramel, chocolate cookies, and, of course, a movie screening for Seattle International Film Festival donors and sponsors who helped fund the extensive interior renovations to the venue inside the one-time Masonic temple.

“This has been such an amazing palace for theater for so long, and I think many of us who have been involved in all the festivals for SIFF over the years have come to find it as one of our homes,” said Jeff Stolz, a SIFF member for 10 years. “It’s so exciting that it has come back.”IMG_3077

Have a drink on Capitol Hill, get in free
Starting Friday, SIFF Cinema Egyptian will hold its official grand opening celebration for the public from October 3rd through 5th, showing a variety of its most popular films. All tickets are $5 dollars (in advance or at the door) — but you can get in for free with a receipt from a Capitol Hill business.

(Images: CHS)

(Images: CHS)

Following the exit of Landmark Theaters from the Egyptian during the summer of last year, the Egyptian went through a long period of uncertainty as the owner of the 1916 Masonic Temple building, Seattle Central College, began searching for a new tenant. SIFF, the organization that originally converted the auditorium into a functional cinema back in 1980 before the Landmark takeover, eventually signed off on a lease with SCC for the next ten years, so that film nonprofit can not only maintain usage of the theater for the annual film festival, but hold regular matinee, evening, and midnight screenings seven days a week.IMG_3013

“We’re exploring what will work,” Carl Spence, artistic director at SIFF, told CHS as we looked at what the next ten years for the Egyptian will hold. “We’re also having to re-establish it into the market. If it’s cinematic and fits our aesthetic, we’ll show it.”

Renovation and upgrades
Through SIFF’s community fundraising and outreach such as the text2give campaign at this year’s film festival, more than $300,000 was raised to help cover the renovation expenses as well as provide some initial capital for operating costs to get the theater back on its feet.

“It’s lovely,” said Bic, a SIFF member. “It should be open. We’re losing so many local theaters.”

According to Jim Angelo, a SIFF board member, the “lion’s share” of the fundraising was carried by SIFF members and matching funds from SIFF itself, aside from a $150,000 dollar donation made by an anonymous donor. Other funds were provided by the City of Seattle and the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture, as well as Starbucks and Owen Richards Architects.

Most of the donations went into revamping the theater’s lighting, sound, and movie screening equipment, with the projection room now sporting two refurbished 35mm projectors for “reel-to-reel” projection — in addition to a digital projector — while the auditorium itself has been fitted with JBL surround sound speakers, a state of the art 7.1 Dolby Digital sound processor, acoustic panelling, and a new subwoofer.

Needed restroom upgrades may be part of future plans. “It’s nice that they put dividers between the urinals,” said Bill Kennedy, a veteran SIFF member of 35 years who was at the Egyptian for its first ever showing. SIFF officials said that the bathrooms were cleaned and partitions added, though ideas for enlargement and further upgrades are still being discussed given it being something of a hot topic among those who frequent the theater. Many people have made inquiries in the past and at Wednesday’s event about when SIFF will renovate the restroom facilities.

Each seat in the theater was meticulously washed and cleaned by hand, while almost every surface got a fresh coat of paint. New lamp fixtures dot the walls of the theater and intricate multi-colored lighting designs now illuminate the ceiling.

“It’s all about the experience that people are going to have when they come in,” said Mary Bacarella, managing director at SIFF.

The concessions stand now boasts a projected menu and serves beer and wine, though the theater is still all-ages.

The VIP night attendees feasted on assortment of dessert from local businesses such as Street Treats and Dilettante prior to settling into their seats to watch the featured film. Attendees viewed The Imitation Game, a movie about British cryptologist Alan Turing starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

“We wanted to see what they’d done, and it’s pretty spectacular.” said Bryon Barnes, a SIFF member and donor to the Egyptian renovation fund. No word on what he thought about the movie.

You can view movie times, buy tickets and learn more at


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7 years ago

Gum still stuck to the seats. Priceless!


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