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Got films? Scarecrow Video needs $1.8M to keep offering movies you can't stream online

From the rise of streaming video to the Covid pandemic, Seattle's cherished Scarecrow Video has survived challenge after challenge. Now, it admits it needs help — $1.8 million in help, to be exact.

“It is a touchstone within the Seattle film scene here," said Scarecrow Video Executive Director Kate Barr. "We started in 1988, we were around in the heyday of the film and music scene here. We’re still here and we still want to be here so that we are part of the past, we are part of people’s present, and into the future.”

Right now, go try to stream the award-winning 1985 film "Cocoon." It's directed by Ron Howard. It was honored for its visual effects and acting. But you won't find it online. Or, perhaps 1999's comedy "Dogma" is more your speed. It's Kevin Smith's highest-grossing theatrical release, and packed with big names — Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Salma Hayek, Chris Rock, and Alan Rickman. The Catholic League even denounced it as blasphemous, which means it's really popular. Still, this film is nowhere to be found online.

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The list doesn't end there. New generations of cinephiles would find it difficult to enjoy Marisa Tomei's film debut alongside Matt Dillon in "The Flamingo Kid," share the childhood delight of "The Brave Little Toaster," scratch their heads while watching "Mask" (with Cher, not Jim Carrey), experience early '90s angst with "Pump Up the Volume" or late '90s panache with "Spice World." They can't binge watch the entire original run of "Murphy Brown." And good luck trying to watch Godzilla movies with the original, poorly timed English-dubbed dialogue.

caption: Scarecrow Video's collection includes titles from 138 countries and in 126 languages other than English. It's among the largest video collections in the United States.
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1 of 4 Scarecrow Video's collection includes titles from 138 countries and in 126 languages other than English. It's among the largest video collections in the United States.

Such films do not appear among the catalogues of online streaming services, like Netflix or Hulu, for a range of reasons. Often, it's because rights to the films fall in legal limbo. That's the issue Jordan Osborn encountered when he attempted to watch "28 Days Later." It was a surprise post-apocalyptic hit in 2003. To this day, it maintains an 87% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But you can't find it online.

“Whoever holds those (rights) now has it to a point where you can’t release it on streaming, or you can’t really find it on DVD, otherwise folks are asking obscene amounts of money for it," he told KUOW's Seattle Now.

Luckily, Osborn found it at Scarecrow Video. It only cost him $4.50 for a week. It's not an uncommon situation for the folks at Scarecrow.

Barr said that Netflix has about 3,000 titles online. Scarecrow Video adds 4,000 titles each year alone. The collection not only serves the Seattle area, the store rents by mail across the United States.

“If you put Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu together, it’s a little bit over 40,000 titles. We have 148,000 titles," Barr said.

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“I was talking with somebody just yesterday actually, he is a Greek immigrant and he was saying his mother was looking for Greek movies. Never heard of us before. They live on the Eastside," Barr said. "He said there are not a lot of Greek movies that are streaming and this is something that would be worth the drive, to make it part of his weekly routine had he known about us. It isn’t just Greece. We have a huge foreign selection. I feel like we’re not getting the word into the right communities to get them to know we have an amazing resource here.”

$1.8 million financial challenge

This is not the first time Scarecrow Video has faced dire straits. Ever since the video store became a nonprofit nine years ago, DVD rentals have decreased by 40%. On top of that, costs have risen in recent years. Despite mailing rentals across the country, and its extensive selection, Scarecrow Video is currently about $1.8 million short of what it needs to survive 2024.

Barr wants to use the raised funds to bring in a new leadership team. This includes hiring a new executive director to replace herself.

"There is a lot of untapped potential here," she said. "Part of it is having the know-how to tap into that potential. (New leadership is) going to know how to do that in a way that I just don’t. This isn’t me being ousted from this situation. This is me putting my hand up and saying, ‘I think I’m at the end of the road of my knowledge and what I have the capacity to do.’ But I know how much potential is within this collection and this space.”

More recently, Barr said challenges remain from the pandemic. The store was sustainable, even during the first couple years of pandemic shutdowns. But things changed in 2022.

“I feel like we won the Covid war, but we’re losing the peace," Barr said. "There has been a lot of echoes from the pandemic that have rippled out and are having a substantial impact ... Locally, we really have put our eggs into the tech basket, and when they do layoffs, how is that not going to have an impact on all of us nonprofits? I think there are a lot of things that have conspired to come to a head here.”

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If Scarecrow cannot raise the funds it needs, Barr said the shop will go into "hibernation." That means it will box up the entire collection and place it into storage. It could still offer rentals by mail, but Scarecrow Video's future will remain uncertain.

Listen to Seattle Now's full segment on Scarecrow Video here.

KUOW's Dyer Oxley contributed to this article.

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