June 3, 2008 in City

Art theater suspends operations

By The Spokesman-Review
File photo

Audience members attend the Patagonia Wild and Scenic Environmental Film festival at Magic Lantern Theater last year.
(Full-size photo)

The Magic Lantern Theater has again gone dark.

Less than nine months after its return from a nine-year hiatus, the Spokane art house closed Sunday night. Executive Director Kathryn Graham was ousted Friday.

Prospects for yet another reopening are uncertain, although Michael Reid, president of the Magic Lantern Film Society board of directors, said Monday he hopes a decision to revive the venue can be made before the end of the month, with the projectors running again in July.

“This is intended only as a stopgap measure,” Reid said.

The nonprofit society oversees theater operations.

Reid said the theater was losing money but the society could still cover its debts. There was concern it might not be able to do so in the future, he said.

“We could see serious trouble on the horizon,” Reid said. In the months since the Sept. 21 reopening, he added, “we sort of got an idea where we were, and it wasn’t where we wanted or needed to be.”

He said board members want to assess what expertise might best position the Magic Lantern for success and whether someone with the necessary skills should be brought in from outside the society.

Part of the process will be a review of the Spokane movie market, Reid said, as well as the inroads made by Netflix and other movie-by-mail services.

He said the board may continue to book the kinds of movies favored by Graham but add to the selections available on the Magic Lantern’s two screens by working with the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, for example, to mount more themed festivals.

Graham said the theater has been rented to other nonprofit groups but not partnered with them.

She said the Magic Lantern was building clientele, as any new business would. Many former customers were not familiar with the theater’s location in the former Saranac Hotel at 25 W. Main. The theater opened at 123 N. Wall in December 1973 and remained there through a series of closures, the last in December 1998.

Graham said the timing of the September reopening also came too late for a listing in last year’s telephone directory.

“I think we were doing OK,” she said, particularly with long runs by “La Vie En Rose” and “I’m Not There,” biopics of Edith Piaf and Bob Dylan, respectively.

Although she will no longer have any responsibility for the theater, Graham said she is willing to help give her successor whatever help is needed.

“We’ve got a great theater,” she said.

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