The Uptown 

The Uptown Theater is a historic touchstone waiting to be brought back to life. Once an original 3-projector Cinerama theater built in 1936, The Uptown hosted the premieres of “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Jurassic Park” on their opening nights, with crowds stretching around the block and over some. It was a cherished landmark to both cinephiles and DC neighbors for almost 100 years.

In March of 2020 during the pandemic, The Uptown closed its doors and has remained shuttered ever since. What remains is a single vacant auditorium seemingly devoid of any life — decades of history wrapped up and settled in whatever walls remained.

But despite its locked doors and concealed windows, The Uptown Theater still has screenings of its own. Every afternoon, apparitions come to life on the curved screen, dancing in a horizontal choreography — growing, shrinking, spinning – without anyone to see them, creating spectacular scenes without any projectors at all.

The Theater still has life left. It is just waiting for someone to unlock it again.

I was asked by the current owners of the Uptown Theater and the future architects of the theater’s reconstruction to create a film that highlighted the cinema's magnificence and history. Unlike the architects’ drawings and 3D renderings of a future cinema, the film serves as a testament to the beauty of the theater’s current state – a vacant space. Together, these materials will be used to encourage a donor to support The Uptown’s restoration of its original art-deco style, and reopening as one of the last single-screen theaters in the US.

I hope viewers will discuss the beauty of theaters as a whole and how we must preserve them. But more deeply, I hope they are better able to discern the beauty of the ordinary when guided by a more thoughtful eye.

This was my core principle in directing this film: What about the mundanity of these rooms is so spectacular to me? I wanted to focus on details and artifacts in the theater that gave clues to the life that the building had before. I hope that others are inspired to seek the same.

dir., edit. Izzy Rael
dp. Peter Hou

35mm 4-perf

Visual Diary

Director / Cinematographer