by Mark Van Streefkerk
Columbia City’s newest indie movie theater is back! Since halting almost all public screenings last March, The Beacon Cinema reopens tonight with a screening of The New Corporation at 7 p.m. 100% of ticket proceeds will go to the Kshama Solidarity campaign to fight the right-wing recall of socialist City Councilmember Kshama Sawant. The Beacon will also debut a remodeled and freshly repainted lobby and an even more focused lineup of film offerings.
Co-founders and co-owners Tommy Swenson and Casey Moore officially opened The Beacon in July of 2019 at 4405 Rainier Ave South, at what was once an office space with an adjoining yoga studio. Swenson and Moore are both cinephiles with roots in the University District of the 1990s, a time and place rife with cinema culture, including a handful of indie theaters, Scarecrow Video, and the now-closed Cinema Books. Before opening The Beacon, Swenson had been the film programmer for a local theater chain in Austin, Texas, and Moore had established his own film marketing firm, High Council. Swenson and Moore launched The Beacon as an opportunity to screen arthouse, rare, and cult films and as a complimentary theater to Columbia City’s historic Ark Lodge Cinemas.
After The Beacon’s official debut in 2019, it was only about eight months before the theater was forced to temporarily close due to the pandemic. “Looking back now, those first eight months were a great testing ground to begin to get a sense of what works for us, who our audience is, and what our programming can look like,” Swenson said.
Swenson considers those first eight months as “essentially a trial period that has actually put us in a super exciting spot of being able to now gradually build things back up in an even more carefully considered and hopefully fun and rewarding way.”
The Beacon briefly tried some public screenings last October but ultimately decided against the idea considering the citywide spike in COVID-19 cases at the time. “It was clear that it just wasn’t time yet, and we changed gears to only hosting private rentals starting in November,” Swenson said.
The Beacon has been closed to all events over the last few weeks as Swenson and Moore complete the remodel of the lobby. Improvements are a “reimagining of the flow of people through the space and how it’s used,” Swenson explained. The remodel also makes room to sell books and records, a new addition going forward.
For the foreseeable future, The Beacon’s public screenings will be offered on Friday and Saturday. Those on the “Beacon wavelength” will appreciate Swenson and Moore’s programming that celebrates some of cinema’s brightest luminaries like legendary Itallian film composer Ennio Morricone, Argentinian-born French filmmaker Nelly Kaplan, American indie film pioneer Monte Hellman, radical Italian feminist filmmaker Cecilia Mangini, and so many more. Punk band Electric Chair will perform before a showing of Repo Man on Sept. 17, and a tribute to Nobuhiko Obayashi is in the works.
“From here on out, no movie goes less than all the way,” said Swenson. “Our focus is making sure that when you come see a movie at The Beacon, you know it’s going to knock you out.”
Stay up-to-date with showtimes, buy tickets, and learn about upcoming film programs and private rental availability at The Beacon’s calendar.
Guests at The Beacon are required to provide proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test results. Masks are mandatory for everyone.
📸 Featured Image: The Beacon Cinema, Columbia City’s indie theater, is reopening for public screenings tonight, kicking off with a fundraiser for the Kshama Solidarity campaign. Pictured is the exterior of The Beacon during the finishing touches of its remodel. (Photo: Mark Van Streefkerk)
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