San Rafael center to host arty special events

SAN RAFAEL — It may boast Skywalker Ranch and ILM, but Marin County oddly has lacked first-class public exhibition facilities. This status changes next week as the Rafael Film Center, a “museum of the moving image,” opens with several days’ special events.

April 16 brings the U.S. preem of Alan Rudolph’s “Breakfast of Champions,” with the director and star Nick Nolte confirmed to attend. The next night is a world premiere fete for Alexander Payne’s (“Citizen Ruth”) high school satire “Election,” with Payne, thesp Reese Witherspoon and Par chief Sherry Lansing to be in attendance.

Sunday brings a screening of the remastered “A Hard Day’s Night;” with producer Walter Shenson present to discuss his adventures in Beatledom.

Non-commercial slant

Opening weekend festivities aside, the $6.8 million Rafael Center generally will showcase all things filmic except commercial firstrun features. Its three screens (at 350, 130 and 80 seats) will host ongoing repertory schedules of foreign, indie and classic pics as well as in-person events, daytime school-use programs, and traveling and local festivals. The Film Institute of Northern California, the Rafael Center’s parent org and founder/operator of the 22-year-old Mill Valley Film Festival, will use the facility as a secondary venue this fall.

The San Francisco Intl. Film Fest is also on the RFC calendar during its imminent April 22-May 6 program.

The three theaters are all THX- and Dolby-equipped as well as outfitted with reel-to-reel (as well as platter) projection for accommodating archival prints. The midsized second house is also “double-system” (i.e. rock and roll projectors), making it the only public venue in Northern California capable of showing unmarried prints and dailies; 16mm, video, and Internet can also be projected.

Originally opened as the Orpheus Theatre in 1918 then destroyed in a fire and reopened as the Rafael in 1938, the building remained a movie house until damage from 1989’s Loma Prieta earthquake forced closure. The Film Institute subsequently purchased it from the city of San Rafael for $1, then embarked on several years’ planning, fundraising and construction.

Art deco dedication

While vastly changed from its single-screen incarnation — a lobby grand staircase, cafe and boardroom are among the more conspicuous additions — its current design hews as faithfully as functional necessities and limited original visual records allowed to the Orpheus’ art deco styling.

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