Monday, July 1, 2019

The Beacon Cinema opening: Jul 19 | Seattle Independent Cinema Culture


It can no longer be said that Seattle is home to "The Best Film Corner in America". That era is now a decade or more in the past. With independent cinemas closing around the nation, for those who appreciate the community experience of shared viewing on the big screen, it has become more essential than ever to support the remaining local theater opportunities. Particularly with the subsuming of Sundance Theaters into the corporate AMC chain and the fast-shrinking and now single regional theater of the once expansive Landmark Theatres. Amidst all of this, there is hope. After potential bids from both Amazon and Netflix, the long-running independent and arthouse theater chain has just recently been purchased by Cohen Media Group. In “A Trade Between Billionaires: Mark Cuban Sells Landmark Theatres Chain to Film Buff Charles Cohen”, improbably we may see the nationwide assembly of cinemas revitalized and open again with fresh, inventive programming. Cohen Media's track record at least suggests as much. Also here in Seattle, the year-round programming at SIFF Cinema offers compensation for the oversights of their annual festival, bringing advance screenings, rare prints, and numerous exclusive screenings to their three locations at SIFF Cinema Uptown, Film Center and the restored Egyptian Theatre. We are also blessed with other local institutions like Seattle Art Museum continuing their solid tradition of repertory programming with the longest running film noir series in North America, alongside recent retrospectives dedicated to such auteurs as Yasujiro Ozu, and Ingmar Bergman.

Our own Northwest Film Forum had a strong calendar year as well, in stiff competition with the seasonal programming seen on the longest continuously open independent screen in this town, The Grand Illusion Cinema. In just the last few years, this micro-sized theater in Seattle's University District has stepped up to fill the growing theater void after strengthening their nonprofit partnership with Scarecrow Video in 2014. Much in the way of the 2016 Action, Anarchy & Audacity: A Seijun Suzuki Retrospective, and Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-Hsien of 2015, last year's Losers, Loners, Outcasts & Outlaws: The Early Works of Jim Jarmusch, was a major programming coup for the independent theater. Their monthlong Jarmusch retrospective making for the Northwest theater-going event of the year. Collaborative programming of more substantial and costly film series and retrospectives have also brought theatrical events like Wim Wenders: Portraits Along the Road, and the aforementioned Hou Hsiao-Hsien to the screens concurrently at Northwest Film Forum, Grand Illusion, and SIFF. It has become the case that many of the most notable films seen in recent years, when they did come to the cinema, had runs that lasted no more than a week. Others were never to appear again outside of an initial festival screening. Again proving the wisdom of getting out there, seeing the city and prioritizing the remaining opportunities that we're fortunate to have in our urban crossroads. Even so, no small percentage of these films even avid theater-goers didn't have opportunity to see.

These factors distinguishing the almost singular resource that is Scarecrow Video, recipient of the 2016 Stranger Genius Award, as that much more irreplaceable. One can't imagine that in the age of digital piracy, that this series of delays and exceedingly short runs, have aided global cinema find it's audience on the big screen. There's also the matter of a growing body of films being released in limited engagements, or in some cases not at all outside of availability on the dominant streaming platforms. Particularly in the case of Netflix's venture into feature length director-driven film further complicating access to a recent string of releases. By producing, distributing, and exhibiting new films by Orson Welles, Bong Joon-ho, Alice Rohrwacher, Alfonso Cuarón, Aleksei German JR, and the Coen Brothers, "Netflix’s Movie Blitz Takes Aim at Hollywood’s Heart", thereby significantly limiting the opportunities for these director's work to be seen and achieve notoriety in the traditional theatrical sense. As more and more viewers move to streaming, and find their choices grossly limited on the larger commercial platforms, cinephiles have come to hail the quality on offer through independent streaming platforms like Mubi, Fandor and the recently launched Criterion Channel.  Given all of these factors, to open a cinema in the midst of the escalating cost of real estate, and its fallout seen in relation to the cultural, and wealth stratification that Seattle is currently undergoing, is audacious to say the least. While the city may never see a theater model as encompassing and far reaching as New York's The Metrograph, there is a significant void to be filled in relation to repertory and second run films. Particularly outside of the model offered by cinemas that prioritize a drinking and dining experience with conversant audiences, over quality viewing conditions and programming.

All of the above making Casey Moore and Tommy Swenson's launching of "Columbia City's New Single-Screen Cinema that Flies in the Face of Netflix", something to be celebrated. As longtime Seattle cinema culture patrons, they have each worked in the wider world of film academia, distribution, marketing and theatrical presentation. Bringing with them such notable experience sets as programming for the 34 theaters in the Alamo Drafthouse chain, marketing for The Criterion Collection, the film studies program at the University of Washington, and the bedrock of the local community; years at both The Grand Illusion and Northwest Film Forum. Moore's own film and television marketing venture, High Council, will share offices with the new theatrical space. As a tip of the hat to the cinema the two proprietors love, the venue's wall-spanning image from Chris Marker’s "La Jetée", speaks volumes as to the kind of theater we can expect of The Beacon. In their statement to Crosscut, the two have detailed the venue's programming will encompass everything from early silents, to black and white and color classics, documentaries, to contemporary second-run movies. Horror, genre, arthouse and foreign film will also figure largely, as is made apparent by their opening week calendar. Programming will also extend to movements and thematic framing, including their first series; “You Only Moved the Headstones: The Unburied Violence of Suburbia”. In which we can expect a international plumbing of the underbelly of 20th century suburbia, with David Lynch's "Blue Velvet", Tobe Hooper's "Poltergeist", Joe Dante's "The Burbs", and Ann Turner's "Cecelia", as our guides.