SIFF Cinema Downtown

2100 4th Avenue,
Seattle, WA 98121

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9-19-13 Cinerama screen for 70mm film festival

Seattle’s Martin Cinerama opened in 1963 using the original Cinerama 3-strip projection technique. But with a shift underway towards 70mm projection, the theatre was altered just a few months later, although the enormous curved screen was kept. It had a capacity of 808 seats.

The 70mm Cinerama screenings lasted until 1969, when the theatre switched to more conventional 35mm projectors. Eventually Cineplex Odeon took over operations. By 1997, the theatre was struggling and developers swooped in with plans to repurpose the theatre.

Very quickly, Seattle Cinerama lovers began a grassroots effort to save the theatre. A year later, Paul Allen (of Microsoft fame), bought the theatre for $3 million. Soon after, he orchestrated an immense restoration project that enhanced the theatre’s appearance and returned it to its roots—showing films in the Cinerama format.

Re-opened in 1999, the Seattle Cinerama Theater is now one of only three operating Cinerama theatres in the world. This beautifully restored shrine to Cinerama is now one of the most technologically advanced movie theatres ever erected. In the Fall of 2014 it was closed for remodelling, reopening in November 2014 with a reduced seating capacity of 570.

After philanthropist Paul Allen’s death in 2018, in early-February 2020, it was closed for ‘refurbishment’ but in May 2020 it was announced that it would be closed for the “foreseeable future” and may not reopen, so the future of one of the world’s greatest single screen showcases is again uncertain.

On May 11, 2023 it was announced that the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) had taken over the building and it reopened on December 14, 2023, renamed SIFF Cinema Downtown. The reopening movie was Timothee Chalamet in “Wonka”.

Contributed by Ross Melnick

Recent comments (view all 262 comments)

JackCoursey on November 22, 2023 at 5:51 am

Since the SIFF was unable to secure the rights to Cinerama, it is doubtful that they can use the 3 projector process. As for the curved screen, according to the former operators, it was a labor and time intensive process to install and could only be used with film (not digital) presentations. At best, Seattle can hope that the 70mm will be used as frequently as possible. The flat screen, to it’s credit, is immense and looks great in showing both film and digital.

Mike Tiano
Mike Tiano on December 1, 2023 at 11:38 am

I’d like to hear the question about the Cinerama process directly from SIFF. My understanding was that SIFF couldn’t license just the name for the theater. It doesn’t mean they couldn’t use the process.

Redwards1 on December 1, 2023 at 12:48 pm

Has SIFF engaged in talks with the owner of Cinerama prints, both of original 3-strip and transfers of those titles to 70mm? Exhibition of Cinerama films is certainly a different matter than using a copyrighted name on a building. SIFF could add a small cost to pay for labor setting up the curved screen to each ticket. How committed is SIFF to movie history? Commercial exhibitors are not concerned with history or preservation.

JackCoursey on December 1, 2023 at 4:52 pm

The Uptown Theatre in Washington DC, to the best of my knowledge, is the only theatre on the east coast still equipped for Cinerama, including the curved screen. I don’t think it has used all 3 projectors for at least 50 years and that was when it had the Cinerama banner. Digital projection doesn’t fit on curved screens like film.

RussM on December 8, 2023 at 5:48 pm

Paul Allen paid to have new 3-strip film prints made for This is Cinerama, and How the West Was Won, so I would think that the theater would have those two films, and the rights to show them. No page has been created yet on Cinema Treasures for SIFF Cinema Downtown. Maybe someone with the time might want to do it.

HowardBHaas on December 8, 2023 at 7:21 pm

A new page won’t be created, as the theater reopens December 14 with Wonka. The theater here will be renamed and the Intro adjusted.

Redwards1 on December 8, 2023 at 9:54 pm

Just to clarify, the 70mm prints of Cinerama 3-strip productions are very effective when projected on a deep curved screen. Pacific Theatres was involved in creating these 70mm prints. Apparently they own all the original Cinerama features. Seattle Cinerama presented a terrific restored Lawrence of Arabia 70mm print on the deep curved screen. It would seem the 70mm Cinerama prints could also be presented on that screen.

Mike Tiano
Mike Tiano on February 16, 2024 at 5:27 pm

From what I see here if a theater changes management and/or gets a new name there is only one page for all iterations of that theater, a new one is not created. I saw this for the Ritz/Cine/Pussycat/Miracle in Inglewood, CA and suspect it’s the rule, not the exception. This makes more sense to me from a historical perspective rather than creating a different page for each successor, but that seems to be the way it works here at CT anyway.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on February 16, 2024 at 9:31 pm

You are correct, sir.

Mikeoaklandpark on February 17, 2024 at 1:14 pm

Did they keep the large curved screen?

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