It was a good run, but the Magic Lantern Theater — a cornerstone of Spokane’s art house film scene (actually, the only one) — shut its doors again this morning.
On Thursdays, owner Joe Davis would customarily sent an e-mail to all his usual media contacts listing showtimes for the weekend’s lineup. This morning, the e-mail subject read: “No schedule for the Magic Lantern ... this week or any other."
Davis cited a “major downturn in sales over the past 2 months." Previous to that, Davis had complained of barely breaking even.
The e-mail ended, “Thanks for all the support over the past year, it's been fun and I was rather proud that Spokane got another year of good cinema under its belt."
The space the theater occupied in the Saranac Hotel was created especially for it, an effort to find a home for the long-troubled theater, which has opened up and closed down several times over the years. Its move to the Saranac (after a long period of being closed completely) coincided with then-director Katherine Graham incorporating the theater as a nonprofit. Davis had taken the theater for-profit again when he opened it back up in 2009.
While the weekly slates of films will stop immediately, several ongoing arrangements remain up in the air.
According to Festival Director Pete Porter, the Spokane International Film Festival had roughly 10 programs at the Magic Lantern last year, including two forums with filmmakers. SpIFF planned to host a similar number of films this year.
The Lantern was also the site of their ongoing Professor Film Series, which screened the Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman classic Unforgiven last night.
The news was too fresh for Porter to have come to any decisions about the the direction of SpIFF or the fate of the Professor series. He did, though, voice his sadness, saying that the Magic Lantern “just has a different feeling than other theaters in town.” Porter also said he knew that Davis was upset as well. “I think business owners are always attached to their businesses,” Porter said, “but I think Joe was really attached to this one.”