Culture

Capitol Theater redirects course during pandemic, finds audience online

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OLYMPIA — Like countless other entities across the world, the folks heading up the nonprofit Olympia Film Society, which operates the historic Capitol Theater, found themselves needing to adapt in a world ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.

That need prompted a complete overhaul of the theater’s programming. For a handful of months now, rather than catching an in-person movie screening, patrons have bought virtual tickets on the theater’s website to stream films online.

“A lot of our volunteers want the doors to reopen. They want to support the arts in Olympia and we appreciate that and we’re looking forward to having them back, but we want to make sure that all practical safety measures are in place before that happens,” said Rob Patrick, programming director for the Olympia Film Society (OFS).

Since mid-March, the Capitol Theater — a hub for film and live music in downtown Olympia — hasn’t featured any in-person screenings or events. Out of an abundance of caution, OFS members made the decision to cancel screenings and postpone live events before mandated shutdowns of restaurants, venues and other businesses went into effect. 

As a result, a number of events had to be postponed, like two benefit concerts with the legendary Olympia-formed punk band Bikini Kill and other musical acts like Seattle-based rockers Mudhoney and Maryland-based Snail Mail. The 36th Olympia Film Festival had been on the calendar for April, but was pushed back. A showing of the often-quoted comedy “Napoleon Dynamite” with stars Jon Heder and Efren Ramirez on hand for a live question-and-answer session had been slated for October. Patrick said none of the planned events have been flat-out canceled, but are rather postponed until live events are safe. 

After the doors were temporarily shuttered, OFS leaders worked hand-in-hand with film distributors and other arthouse theaters to arrange for digital screenings to replace their live shows. OFS had never ventured into online streaming before, said Patrick.

 Film distribution companies have been good partners in the process, Patrick added, allowing for both new titles and already-released films — a this-and-that of all new and recent classics that OFS would typically show at the Capitol Theater, with an emphasis on indie films that larger, mainstream theaters often avoid.

 Among the 10 films available to stream as of Thursday are the 2016 Sophia Takal film “Always Shine”, “The Fight” and “Tangerine.” All the proceeds of “Tangerine” will benefit Black Trans Task Force, described on the OFS website as “an intersectional, multi-generational project of community building, research, and political action addressing the crisis of violence against Black Trans people.”

 Eventually, the online-only format will play host to other kinds of events, including film festivals and concerts.

 A remote, local short film festival is in the works, said Patrick, but a date to submit entries hasn’t been announced yet. Patrick said the festival is planned to include Instagram Live and Zoom question-and-answer sessions with local filmmakers.

 Singer and songwriter Mirah will perform the theater’s first remote concert on Aug. 11, with two additional shows on Aug. 25 and Sept. 8. Each concert will focus on a different portion of Mirah’s discography.

 All-in-all, the drastic transformation has gone well, said Patrick. There was a learning curve to adjust to when the online streaming first started, but it’s been well received. Patrick noted patrons have been happy with the variety of movies that have been made available to stream.

 And while there are no definitive plans to reopen by a certain date, Patrick said online streaming may become a permanent part of OFS’s programming.

 “It’s been a fairly interesting process to curate meaningful programs digitally. It’s been both a fun and a unique challenge,” he said.

 Tickets and event calendars can be found at https://olympiafilmsociety.org/.

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