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The first Celluloid Bainbridge Film Festival was held on February 7, 1999, at Bainbridge Cinemas at the Pavilion. The event was the brainchild of Kathleen Thorne, the Program Director of Arts & Humanities Bainbridge (then known as the Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council), who originally conceived it as a way for February Arts Walk attendees to escape the season’s notoriously wet weather. AHB has continued to present the event on an annual basis.

In 2001, Celluloid Bainbridge Film Festival migrated to the Historic Lynwood Theatre’s more scenic auditorium.

In 2006, Celluloid  attracted the attention of the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA offered AHB a two-year $10,000 grant as part of the “Challenge America: Reaching Every Community” initiative. In addition to covering the festival’s administrative costs and associated educational events, grant funds were used to initiate the Celluloid Bainbridge Filmmakers Finishing Fund, providing local filmmakers with funds for post-production expense. The fund ran from 2009 to 2011.

In its first 17 years, Celluloid Bainbridge Film Festival showed only films made on Bainbridge Island or films by current or former island residents. In 2016, Celluloid Bainbridge widened its reach and began welcoming films from all over the Pacific Northwest, including all of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, and British Columbia. The festival continued this approach in 2017.

In 2018, it was determined that Celluloid Bainbridge Film Festival should become an independently organized event, separate from AHB. Preparations for this transition are ongoing. To celebrate Celluloid's legacy, the 2018 festival ran as a retrospective and featured favorite films from the past 20 years.