Seattle Culture

The Cinerama is Back

Now known as SIFF Cinema Downtown, the venue reopens to the public Dec. 14

By Linda Lowry December 13, 2023

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This article originally appeared in the March/April 2024 issue of Seattle magazine.

The Seattle Cinerama Theatre lives again.

Almost four years after its abrupt closure, the theatre reopens to the public Dec. 14 with a screening of Warner Bros.’ fantasy-musical Wonka.

SIFF — The Seattle International Film Festival — purchased the iconic theatre earlier this year from the estate of the late Paul Allen. Now known as SIFF Cinema Downtown, it becomes the nonprofit’s fourth venue in Seattle, along with SIFF Cinema Egyptian, SIFF Cinema Uptown and SIFF Film Center.

Allen had acquired the venue, which opened in 1963, in the 1990s. The theatre closed in 2020. It is one of only two cinemas worldwide with the capability to showcase three-strip Cinerama films on its 87-foot screen.

(L-R) George Clooney, Daniel James Brown, and Grant Heslov attend MGM’s Seattle community screening of The Boys In The Boat at SIFF Cinema on December 07, 2023 in Seattle.

Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images for MGM's Seattle Community

Last week, the venue officially reopened for a private event: a screening of Boys in the Boat, a movie produced by MGM based on the book of the same name by Redmond author Daniel James Brown. The story details the university of Washington’s rowing team that won gold at the 1936 Olympics. Movie co-producer and director George Clooney and his wife, Amal, were in attendance.

Seattle magazine caught up with SIFF CEO Tom Mara to discuss the nonprofit’s plans for the theatre.

What expectations do you anticipate with the opening of the Cinerama? The reopening of such a historic and beloved venue is a responsibility SIFF’s leadership and staff has taken very seriously since announcing the acquisition this May at opening night of the Seattle International Film Festival. Since then, we have been hard at work readying the space and preparing for the day when we could welcome the public back into the space, and are thrilled that time is finally here.

What are SIFF’s main challenges? Like any arts organization, SIFF continues to navigate the changes to our industry because of the pandemic. The experience and need to attend a film in theaters has changed, and we continue to adapt to audiences’ needs and expectations of that experience. Post-pandemic, ticket sales and in-person attendance were down, as was the case for most ticket-based organizations. Though we are not back to our pre-pandemic attendance, in the last three years we have seen people continue to return to the theaters in growing numbers for events like Barbie, DocFest (SIFF’s annual documentary festival), and more.

SIFF’s 50-year anniversary is coming up in 2024. What does the future hold for SIFF? SIFF is on the cusp of one of the most exciting times in our organization’s history. (We) now operate four venues throughout the city, and we do not underestimate the responsibility of that footprint. SIFF is more dedicated and capable than ever to create experiences that bring people together to discover extraordinary films from around the world.

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