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Mill Valley’s Sequoia Theatre Reopens With a Week of $1 Movies

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The Sequoia Theater in downtown Mill Valley reopens to the public on Monday, May 20. (Courtesy Sequoia Cinema)

The 95-year-old Sequoia Theatre in downtown Mill Valley reopened on Monday, May 20, marking a rare movie theater reopening amid a spate of closures.

The theater, built in 1929, has been dark since last October, when the lease held by the movie theater chain Cinemark ran out. Over the past six months, its owner and new operator, the California Film Institute, upgraded the projectors and sound equipment and refurbished the lobby.

Starting May 20, the theater — newly christened as Sequoia Cinema — will celebrate by screening four days of classic films like Vertigo, The Wizard of Oz and Back to the Future, charging just $1 admission.

The California Film Institute also runs the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, as well as the Mill Valley Film Festival.

An increasing number of Bay Area movie theaters have closed, including but not limited to the Century Cinema in Corte Madera, the Regency 6 in San Rafael, the Century Regency in San Rafael, the Albany Twin in Albany, Century Cinema in San Francisco, Embarcadero Cinema in San Francisco and the West Portal Theater in San Francisco. The Sequoia’s reopening, meanwhile, is a welcome outlier.


“When we do really great, unique programing, especially if there’s a local filmmaker or a local community partnership involved, people support it,” said Dan Zastrow, general manager of the Smith Rafael Film Center and Sequoia Cinema. “Every time I walk in the building, someone stops me to ask me about when we’re reopening. People are just excited about the cinema coming back.”

The Sequoia Theater pictured in 1967. Eight years later, its main auditorium would be “twinned,” or split into two, as it is today. (Courtesy of the Lucritia Little History Room, Mill Valley Public Library )

Many of the local movie theaters that have closed in the past few years, Zastrow observed, had been operated by large chains like Regency, AMC, Landmark, Century and Cinemark.

“And nothing against the big chain theaters, which I love,” Zastrow said, adding that the Sequoia will inevitably show some mainstream films often seen at the region’s megaplexes. “But it’s a different kind of exhibition animal; it’s the next-big-film in, and low-grosser out. What we do is more community-focused and filmmaker-focused.”

Film booking at the Sequoia will be handled by Jan Klingelhofer, who also books the Smith Rafael Film Center. On May 31, the theater opens Edge of Everything, by filmmakers Sophia Sabella and Pablo Feldman. The film was inspired by the writer and directors’ teenage years growing up in Mill Valley.

The Sequoia Theater may eventually get a significant remodel. In 2022, the California Film Institute filed plans with the city of Mill Valley to dig out a lower ground floor and add a second story, increasing the number of auditoriums from two to four.

Zastrow could not comment on the exact details of the plans, or where they stand. “We’ll see where we are in a couple of years,” he said.

“But, as we raise funds and plan for a renovation, we couldn’t leave the building dark. We had to operate it, keep it open and run film,” he said. “It’s just this incredibly beloved community cinema.”

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