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[whitespace] Mark Fishkin
On camera: The Film Institute's Mark Fishkin.

Rafael Theater Reopens

STEPPING THROUGH the glass doors and into the lobby of the newly renovated Rafael Theater is a shocking experience. The surprise is not that the historic building, which has survived fire and neglect in its 80-year history, has been lovingly restored to its 1930s art deco good looks, from the fanciful murals to the chandeliers to the sweeping staircase. The real revelation is that the opulent setting and state-of-the-art technology of the three-screen theater in downtown San Rafael will be used to showcase independent films.

That's something North Bay film fans have been looking forward to since 1995, when the Film Institute of Northern California, which runs the internationally famous Mill Valley Film Festival, purchased the building from the city of San Rafael.

"In the past, independent films have often been relegated to lesser theaters," says Mark Fishkin, the Film Institute's executive director. "The mandate was always to just make do and compromise. But now we have a facility that does them justice."

The building, located at 1118 Fourth St., was built in 1918 as a first-run movie theater. It was closed by fire in 1937, reopened the next year, and then closed again in 1989. Renovating the historic building cost approximately $6.8 million and involved, among other things, employing San Francisco artist Jeffrey Yunt to restore the art deco murals.

Fishkin says programming at the restored Rafael will include independent U.S. and foreign films, retrospectives, documentaries and shorts, and film-related educational seminars. The theater will be used as an additional venue for the Mill Valley Film Festival, which will still be held primarily in Mill Valley.

The Rafael reopens with a series of events on April 16-18 that includes the world premiere of Alexander Payne's Election. For details, see Films in the calendar or call 415/383-5256.

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From the April 8-14, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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