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Best of Olympia 2020: Olympia Film Society

Writer's Pick: Best Art House

Olympia Film Society has told a million stories in the gorgeous movie palace that is the Capitol Theater. Photo credit: Olympia Film Society

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Olympia is a city with a lot of things to be proud of, but one of its most invaluable institutions has to be the Olympia Film Society (OFS). Housed in the gorgeous Capitol Theater since 1990, the OFS has long been Thurston County's premier art house, but it's so much more than that: rather than just show first-run independent films, the OFS thoughtfully and thrillingly curates a selection of more underground fare, themed screenings, and revivals of classic and offbeat films.

As OFS Executive Director Audrey M. Henley tells it, there's a perfect storm of factors that result in them being able to provide such a vibrant moviegoing experience.

"One of the things that lends to quality curation is the space that we're in," said Henley. "There's something, in terms of movie magic or cinema magic, where we have this grand movie palace, 800 seats, big stage, big screen, the volunteer personalities -- all of these things mixing together blends into having an opportunity to create an event out of a film screening, as opposed to just showing a film, or just popping in a DVD. The passion of everyone wanting to come out and be a part of the community, whether it's popping popcorn or tearing tickets, their involvement lends itself to being able to create special event screenings."

The OFS also has an abiding love of showing films, when possible, on 35mm, which is a real treat to see in a setting like the Capitol Theater. Whether the films are classics like they show in their film noir series, or bringing back Little Women in 35mm, they're committed to showing off the artistry of film in whatever form it takes. That can also include showing 4K restorations, as they've done in the past with films like the Police Story series.

One of the OFS's greatest achievements is the Olympia Film Festival, which enters its 36th year in April, and this year's lineup is a doozy. Indie film auteur Kelly Reichardt will be there on opening night to show her latest, First Cow; rising dream-pop star Snail Mail will perform; Vanity Fair film critic Richard Lawson will be covering the festival and moderating discussion panels; Jon Heder and Efren Ramirez from Napoleon Dynamite will be screening that indie touchstone; and, perhaps most exciting, 14 art houses (including the Grand Cinema) from around the country will be curating their own programs.

"As art house theaters, we've got to stick together," said Henley, "or we will not survive Amazon, Disney, Netflix, Hulu -- all of that will squash us if we don't stand together, program together, and support each other."

At the heart of it all, OFS is the wonderful movie theater it is because of the support it gets from the Olympia community.

"It's encouraging, for us, that we live in such a place where people really like to get involved in the arts and be a part of making it happen," said Henley.

Keep it happening, Olympia.

OLYMPIA FILM SOCIETY, Capitol Theater, 206 Fifth Ave. SE, Olympia, 360.754.6670,

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