The newest chapter in the almost century-long Egyptian Theatre story begins this week. A former Masonic temple now owned by Seattle Central College, the ornate Capitol Hill single-screen movie palace closed its doors last year, when Landmark Theatres ended a 24-year occupancy. Now it has a new life: The Seattle International Film Festival — which made its home at the Egyptian back in the 1980s — has taken over the lease, and reopens its doors this weekend with a gala celebration.
The newly renamed SIFF Cinema Egyptian begins its new era with a greatest-hits weekend — three days of the theater’s biggest box-office favorites, stretching back several decades. “Amélie,” which played the Egyptian for nearly four months in late 2001/early 2002, kicks things off with two screenings Friday. Other offerings include Akira Kurosawa’s “Kagemusha” (the first film to play the newly reopened Egyptian back in 1980); the Coen Brothers’ “Blood Simple” and “O Brother Where Art Thou”; “Pan’s Labyrinth”; “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”; and “Orlando.” Each film will be introduced by a SIFF staffer.
Tickets for each screening are $5 — or free, if you present a receipt dated Oct. 1-5 from any Capitol Hill business (one ticket per receipt). “It’s our way of welcoming the community back to the Egyptian, and showing that we’re part of the community,” said SIFF artistic director Carl Spence last week.
Though the Egyptian won’t look too different to the casual eye, SIFF has given it a face-lift for its new incarnation: new sound equipment (long a problem in the old Egyptian), new speakers and amplifiers, a restored 35mm projector along with digital projection equipment, electrical and heating/ventilation/air conditioning updates, a freshening-up of the concessions area (which now serves beer on tap, as well as wine), better lighting and paint touch-ups to the elaborate, Egyptian-themed décor.
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“It has such ambience and character — definitely a different experience than a black-box cinema,” said Spence, on a walk-through last week. He and SIFF managing director Mary Bacarella noted that the process of renovating the theater unearthed some treasures: old SIFF posters and memorabilia, old films. Backstage, you can still see the original lighting from the venue’s early days as a live-performance space; an impossibly high yet rickety-looking ladder, leaning on the back wall, also dates from long ago.
After the grand opening, SIFF Cinema Egyptian will host a benefit screening of the documentary “The Breach” on Monday, Oct. 6; the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival moves in later in the week. Midnight movies, long an Egyptian tradition, will return mid-month with a selection of Halloween-themed favorites.
Otherwise, Spence said, programming at the Egyptian will “expand on what we do every day” at the organization’s four other year-round screens (three at the Uptown, one at the Film Center): “an eclectic mix of prestige studio films, indie and foreign-language films.” It’s a new life for what many Seattle moviegoers consider an old friend; welcome back.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org