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The future (and current physically restricted state) of Capitol Hill and Central District movie theaters

(Image: Northwest Film Forum)

Remember going to the movies? Watching films on the big screen, the smell of popcorn, and boxes of Milk Duds is already a memory, one that will grow even more distant, according to Capitol Hill-area movie theaters.

Central Cinema is on hiatus, while the Northwest Film Forum has gone online, and has a Capitol Hill Arts District streaming festival in the works. Meanwhile on E Pine, the screen at SIFF Cinema Egyptian and the city’s annual film festival is a no-go.

“We’re shut down completely. We’re in stasis, I should say. We’re not closed closed. Everything is kind of turned off, shut down, cleaned out and unplugged, and put in mothballs as much as possible until we can go back in there and open up again,” Kevin Spitzer, co-owner of 21st and Union’s Central Cinema said.


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Seattle’s “only dine-in cinema” that hosts themed sing-a-longs, Hecklevision, and bargain throwbacks will definitely reopen, Spitzer avowed, adding that the building’s owner is flexible about rent, and he has applied for the Federal CARES Act. If accepted, the aid will go to funding payroll for several months. The staff would be paid for cleaning and working on projects in the building while they remain closed.

“The tricky thing is going to be managing any kind of debt for the next six months,” Spitzer said.  “It’s hard to say when [repoening is] going to be. It could totally be September. It could be later than that. Everybody who somehow magically thinks the world is going to come back in May is deluding themselves.”

You can buy gift cards for future Central Cinema movies, food and drink to help support the venue.

(Image: Northwest Film Fourm)

While the The Northwest Film Forum’s physical space is closed, the nonprofit film and arts center has gone completely online. When Seattle’s mandated closures began March 16th, the Forum had less than a week before commencing their design and architecture-themed film festival ByDesign. “That [festival] had a lot of national and international films. It was so close to launch that we were like, ‘Okay, we just need to figure out how to bring it online,’” remembered executive director Vivian Hua. “We made the transition to online festival in the span of four / five days. It was a real success in that regard.”

Hua noted that as many people attended the online festival as the physical one last year, and this year, more festival passes were sold.

An unexpected positive about streaming film festivals is that it’s a great way to reach international viewers. “We have a few programs that are very curated and very niche. We have Cadence, it’s a video poetry festival starting mid-April. That festival has an audience locally, but honestly the local video poetry festival audience only gets so big. But internationally, that’s a genre of work that’s really popular in Europe, or other countries,” Hua said.

The cost of online festival admission is by sliding scale, from $0 to $25. The Forum is also working with the Capitol Hill Arts District to host a streaming festival beginning the last week of April.

The Capitol Hill Arts District is working with 10 organizations or artist groups on half-hour or longer time blocks curated with local performers or artists. Hua explained, “Those artists can display their material in some pre-recorded format that makes sense. That could be a gallery tour. It could be a performance. We’re hosting it on Northwest Film Forum’s platform, and it’ll be free for everyone, but you can purchase a festival pass and that money will go to Artist’s Trust Relief Fund.

SIFF, the organization behind the neighborhood’s largest theater, has also been hit hard. You won’t see lines wrapping around the Egyptian’s block anytime soon. The annual Seattle International Film Festival has already been canceled and the majority of staff has been furloughed. You can help support the workers here.

But SIFF isn’t going completely dark as it, too, move its focus online for the foreseeable future. Under Virtual SIFF Cinema, the organization is curating online streaming of a wide variety of releases with a portion of revenue generated going back to SIFF. With studios and distributors moving many recent releases online, you’ll still be able to see many of the independent releases you were looking for. And, through Virtual SIFF Cinema, when you fire up Emma, you’ll also be helping the eventual reopening of the last big screen in your neighborhood.

You can learn more about VSF at


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3 years ago

I would be absolutely devastated if this causes Central Cinema and other local Theaters to shut down permanently

3 years ago
Reply to  CapHillGay

I can’t even think that they won’t. They must.