The Film Club Takes a Tour of The Egyptian Theater


Quinlan Kyp-Johnson

Film Club gathers for a photo outside of the Egyptian Theater.

Olivia Duffin, Staff Writer

Walking into the Egyptian Theater in Dekalb, you are met with gold. A lot of it. It’s almost blinding. Sure, it’s called the Egyptian Theater, so it probably entails only a pyramid or two on the wall, right? Wrong. The theater is basically an art museum, from the “inside, outside” effect of the ceiling with star lighting, to the mummies sitting on ledges, and the custom carpeting throughout the theater. 

The North Film Club took a field trip to the theater on Dec. 11. The Egyptian Theater in Dekalb is one of only 21 theaters in the entire country that still uses 35 millimeter projectors. This is a style of projecting films on something called a carbon arc lamp house. There are two in the Egyptian Theater which were installed in 1951 and use an electric flame to project the film. This is much less common than what you see today at other movie theaters because this type of projector and film is not produced anymore. The Theater has to source their rolls of film from private collectors and directly from studios in Hollywood. 

The Film Club got to take a look at the two projectors which are at the top of the theater in a small room. The room is small, warm and cluttered. It’s like you are stepping into a time machine because the technology is so dated, and it seems like something out of an old movie. 

Film Club got special access to the projector room during their tour. (Quinlan Kyp-Johnson)

Orion Carey, the projectionist at the Egyptian Theater, led the tour. He explained that he got interested in this field because his great-grandfather was an organ player for silent films in the 1920s and ‘30s. Being the chairman for the Wurlitzer Theatre Organ committee, Carey proposed getting an organ installed for films at the theater. “The purpose of a pipe organ is to accompany 35 millimeter film,” Carey says. He asked the Executive Producer of the theater, Alex Nerard about the projection room at the top of the theater, and Nerard told him that he hadn’t been up there in years.

“So I opened that door [to the projection room] one day and couldn’t even step foot in the room. It was packed floor to ceiling, wall to wall with storage. So, my best friend and I spent the better part of a month hauling stuff out of here and getting down to business,” said Carey.

The first film they ever showed with their equipment was the famous Christmas movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” in 2017. Carey learned how to project this type of film with the help of a friend of his who was experienced in this field, having owned The Music Box Theater in Chicago.  

“White Christmas” plays at the Egyptian Theater. (Natalie Van Dorpe)

After Film Club’s tour, the showing of “White Christmas” began with snow effects and even commercials from the 50s. The theater was packed full with people coming from all over to experience the projection. “I mean, people come from Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, all over the place,” Carey says. People didn’t just make the journey for the movie that they could watch on Netflix from their couch. They came for the 35 mm version of the film because it is such an uncommon thing in the world of films today. 

Watching and analyzing movies from a computer and whiteboard in Film Club meetings is one thing, but seeing how rare projectors work in person is another thing. “We’re a lucky club,” the advisor of film club, Quinlan Kyp-Johnson said during the tour. This was not an everyday experience for the film club and being able to ask questions and get an in-depth tour made it special for them.