The Uptown Theater, one of Seattle's oldest movie houses, is about to begin a new chapter. The Seattle International Film Festival announced Saturday night it has taken over the Queen Anne theater's lease from the AMC chain, which had closed the Uptown last November.
The Uptown Theater, one of Seattle’s oldest movie houses, is about to begin a new chapter. The Seattle International Film Festival announced Saturday night it has taken over the Queen Anne theater’s lease from the AMC chain, which had closed the Uptown last November.
SIFF artistic director Carl Spence said that the lease is for the next five years, and that the organization will move the operations of its current SIFF Cinema (a leased space at McCaw Hall) to three screens at the Uptown, calling it SIFF Cinema at the Uptown.
In an era when neighborhood movie houses are closing or reconfiguring (in recent months, the Neptune and Columbia City Cinema, as well as the Uptown), it’s a rare reversal to see one reopen as a movie theater.
Programming there will begin Oct. 21, the same day SIFF officially opens a single-screen theater at the newly opened SIFF Film Center on the Seattle Center campus.
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“We are so excited,” said Spence. “It’s been hard to keep this under wraps for so long.” He said negotiations with AMC have been under way since last fall, and that the theater chain has been “amazingly supportive.”
When the Uptown closed, AMC released a statement saying the theater “no longer competes effectively in the marketplace.”
Spence and SIFF managing director Deborah Person emphasized that a multiplex chain’s business model is very different from that of a film festival showing art-house fare year round — and that having four available screens in a range of sizes (the largest Uptown screen seats 480; the intimate SIFF Film Center cinema holds 100) will make it much easier to present a wide array of programming.
“We have more interest than we have capacity right now for use of SIFF Cinema,” said Person. “A lot of individual filmmakers or groups want to show films and we can’t currently accommodate all the people who are interested. This allows us to play even more with the community.”
Spence noted that having three screens in one theater will increase efficiency of the Seattle International Film Festival, held every year from late May to mid-June, though he said the festival will continue to have a presence in other neighborhoods as well.
The Uptown opened its doors in 1926 as a single-screen movie house. Two more auditoriums, seating 275 and 175, were added in the 1980s. Until its closure, Spence said, it was one of Seattle’s few 1920s-era continuously operating movie theaters.
The Uptown has 35-mm projection, and digital projection equipment from the current SIFF Cinema will be transferred there.
Programming for the theater’s opening week will include free public screenings from Oct. 23-27; details will be announced this fall.
Under consideration are some classics and possibly Seattle-inspired movies, and SIFF is asking other businesses in Lower and Upper Queen Anne to be involved.
Spence said the organization wants to “invite the community for the first week, to welcome people back.”