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The Magic Lantern Theatre is closed, but its screens might not be dark for long

click to enlarge Inside the small-scale Magic Lantern Theatre. - JENNIFER RAUDEBAUGH
  • Jennifer Raudebaugh
  • Inside the small-scale Magic Lantern Theatre.

If you call the Magic Lantern Theatre, you'll hear the movies that were playing on Aug. 11. There's an independent comedy starring Danny DeVito, a buzzed-about film from New Zealand, an esteemed documentary about cellist Yo-Yo Ma and other options you could take in at the boutique theater located on a bustling stretch of Main Avenue on the east side of downtown Spokane.

But since that week in August, the projectors haven't rolled at the Magic Lantern. The owner originally promised that the closure was just a remodel and that they'd open with a new look, new management and maybe even beer and wine. That wouldn't come to pass, as it came to light that the Magic Lantern's lease with the Saranac Building had expired. The former manager, Jonathan Abramson, confirmed that he was the theater's sole employee by the end of its run.

"The lease was on a month-to-month, and we decided to go in a different direction with it," says Pat Coleman, property manager at the Saranac Building.

Coleman adds, however, that the building's owners want to see an operating movie theater in the space, and want to have it available for special events.

The current iteration of the Magic Lantern opened in 2007 and has struggled to stay open at times. A previous version of the theater operated above what is now Europa Restaurant and Bakery on Wall Street between 1973 and 1997.

Adam Boyd, director of the Spokane International Film Festival (SpIFF), which has used the Magic Lantern for several years as a screening venue, says that the loss of the theater leaves a hole for theatergoers, but also represents a national trend.

"Little boutique theaters like that bring in a lot of unique programming, so we may lose all the stuff that's not picked up by the big theaters," says Boyd, also a lecturer at Eastern Washington University's film program. "This is a national phenomenon, because the bigger outlets are playing these smaller films. Also, theaters everywhere are competing with Netflix and Hulu and people's home theaters."

As for SpIFF, Boyd is already in talks with the Saranac to, at the very least, use the theater as a venue for the festival. He's also entertaining the idea of using it for even more specialty screenings throughout the year. Coleman agrees that the theater, in whatever form it may reopen, is a necessary component of the city's cultural fabric.

"We love having special events and [SpIFF] here. But there's the greater [idea] that you can see movies there that you can't see anywhere elsewhere," says Coleman. ♦

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