For 23 years, Fremont Outdoor Cinema has served as a destination for cinephiles, a summer party, a communal neighborhood gathering, and much more. Seattle’s first walk-up cinema paved the way for the vast array of summer movie series that now dot the local landscape. It’s also a family tradition, founded by Jon Hegeman and Charlotte Buchanan, and currently run by Hegeman's son and local event producer Ryan Reiter. But the outlook for Fremont Outdoor Cinemas appears cloudy beyond its scheduled 2016 Opening Night on July 16.
“That’ll either be our opening day, or it’ll be our farewell screening,” says Reiter.
Fremont Outdoor Cinema needs a new home. For years, the summer screenings have taken place on the East facade of Fremont Studios. Last year, Fremont Studios landlords informed Reiter and co. that they were planning construction on the wall in fall 2015, but said that it wouldn’t be a problem for the movie series. After being delayed, more water damage to the wall was discovered and plans changed.
Two weeks ago, they were informed that Fremont Outdoor Cinema would need to find a new home. The news caught them off guard, as they were planning on hosting a full summer lineup at their longtime home base. Reiter doesn’t blame the landlords (who are trying to help out going forward), but the short notice has placed the future of Fremont Outdoor Cinema in doubt.
For now, Reiter actively searches for a new location for the series. But in a city that grows ever denser, that’s easier said then done. A parking lot is key. Not being located in a public park means Fremont Outdoor Cinemas isn’t limited to only showing movies rated PG-13 and under, hence the popular screenings of R rated fare like The Big Lebowski and Pulp Fiction. The Fremont Studios location was also ideal because it wasn’t a residential area, which meant volume wasn't an issue.
“It’s a little bit kind of a reality check,” says Rieter. “There’s just not a lot of parking lots where you can go put up a big movie screen and play loud music and dialogue. The reality is that neighborhoods change, and we’re just trying to keep this vibrant culture of outdoor movies alive.”
There’s also the matter of cost. Fremont Outdoor Cinema isn’t a big moneymaker despite being one of the only local outdoor movie series that charges admission. Finding a new home won’t be cheap, and Reiter is hopeful that people in the community might step up to help out.
“The cost every year seems to go up,” say Reiter. “So a lot of people may say, ‘Why don’t you get another screen? Or just go get a blowup screen?’ but again those things all cost money. Some days we have big sponsors, some days we have no sponsors. We just try to keep it as affordable as possible, and that’s what that [Fremont Studios] wall really was. You don’t have to put anything up, you don’t have to take anything down. You just have to put the fence up or a few food trucks, grab the projector, and you’d be good.”
“Maybe there is somebody who will see the value in it and says, ‘Hey, we’ve got a place to do this,’ or maybe there’s an angel sponsor that says, ‘Hey guys, how do we keep this alive and find you a new home?’”
Ideally, Reiter would like to stay within distance of Fremont, but he’d consider opening up the scope if it came to that. Options could include a move to Gasworks Park, Wallingford, South Lake Union, or making it more of a city-wide festival. While he admits it's an “out of their league” dream, finding a semi-permanent home—akin to Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse—could mean Fremont Outdoor Cinema expanding to become more than just being a summer series.
“We just do this because it’s fun,” says Rieter. “My family started this 23 years ago, and that’s where I kinda grew up, so it will totally suck if we can’t find a place to do this. We’re just trying to figure out how we keep this tradition alive.”