by Mark Van Streefkerk
Columbia City‘s newest indie cinema is back! Since almost all public screenings ceased last March, The beacon cinema opens tonight with a showing of The new company at 7 p.m., 100% of the ticket proceeds go to the Kshama solidarity Campaign against right-wing recall of socialist city council member Kshama Sawant. The Beacon will also feature a converted and freshly painted lobby and an even more focused range of films.
Co-founders and co-owners Tommy Swenson and Casey Moore officially opened The Beacon in July 2019 at 4405 Rainier Ave South, a former office and attached yoga studio. Swenson and Moore are both cineastes with roots in the college district of the 1990s, a time and place brimming with cinematic culture, including a handful of indie theaters, Scarecrow Video, and the now-closed Cinema Books. Before The Beacon opened, Swenson was a film programmer for a local Austin, Texas theater chain and Moore had started his own film marketing firm, High Council. Swenson and Moore launched The Beacon as an opportunity to show art house, rare and iconic films and as a complementary theater to the historic Ark Lodge Cinemas in Columbia City.
After The Beacon’s official debut in 2019, it was only around eight months before the theater had to temporarily close due to the pandemic. “Looking back, those first eight months have been a great testbed to get a feel for what works for us, who our audience is, and what our program can be like,” said Swenson.
Swenson views these first eight months as “essentially a trial period that actually left us in a super exciting position of gradually rebuilding things in even more careful and hopefully more fun and rewarding ways.”
The Beacon briefly attempted some public screenings last October but ultimately decided against the idea considering the city-wide spike in COVID-19 cases at the time. “It was clear it wasn’t that time, and we were only going to cease private rentals from November,” said Swenson.
The Beacon has been closed for all events in the past few weeks as Swenson and Moore finish renovating the lobby. Improvements are “a reinterpretation of the flow of people through space and how they are used,” explained Swenson. The renovation also creates space for the sale of books and records, a new addition in the future.
For the foreseeable future, The Beacon’s public screenings will be held on Friday and Saturday. Those on the “beacon wavelength” will appreciate Swenson and Moore’s program, which celebrates some of the brightest luminaries in cinema, such as legendary Italian film composer Ennio Morricone, Argentine-born French filmmaker Nelly Kaplan, American indie film pioneer Monte Hellman , radical Italian feminist filmmaker Cecilia Mangini, and more. The punk band Electric Chair will perform before a performance by Repo man on September 17th, and a tribute to Nobuhiko Obayashi is in the works.
“From now on there is no movie less than all the way,” said Swenson. “Our focus is on letting you know that if you see a movie at The Beacon, you will be blown away.”
Stay up to date with the season, buy tickets and find out more about upcoming film programs and the availability of private loaners at The Beacon’s calendar.
Guests at The Beacon must provide proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test results. Mask is compulsory for everyone.
📸 Featured Image: Columbia City’s indie theater, Beacon Cinema, reopens for public screenings tonight and begins a fundraiser for the Kshama solidarity campaign. Pictured is the exterior of The Beacon during the final touches of its remodel. (Photo: Mark Van Streefkerk)
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