Thursday, February 28, 2013

Small-run theater raises questions: can film stick around?

Over the summer, we put most of our 16mm film collection into storage. Some might argue that film is a richer and more expressive medium than video, but you don't have to be plugged into the industry to realize that digital video is quickly replacing film. Movie theaters remain one of the last bastions of projected film reels. But given the expenses of producing a degradable film reel versus streaming a digital copy, major studios are soon to cease production of film too.

It might be cost-saving in the long run, but some projectionists aren't too happy. The News-Sentinel from Fort Wayne, Indiana tells the story of Cinema Center, a small arthouse theater that has not yet updated to digital projectors and is struggling with the transition both financially and sentimentally. There's a lot in the article about the shocking price of a 35mm film (upwards of $1,500), but the most interesting anecdotes come from the theater-runners lamenting the switch. Film projectors, they argue, don't need constant expensive upgrading and can still show the same films that came out decades ago. The push to switch is universal: even the director of another niche local theater – the type that plays live music along to silent films – admits that the switch to digital video is inevitable.

It will be worth seeing if film-projecting theaters still have an audience in coming years as fewer and fewer stick around. The medium is changing, so is there still room for a niche business that does it the old-fashioned way?

1 comment:

Molly said...

What a great story! One that many people don't think about. Here in DC, most of the theaters from E Street to Regal are switching to digital projection.
Even if you won't miss the scratches on the celluloid or the sound of the reel-to-reel coming from the projection booth, this change is huge and will affect every aspect of the filmmaking industry.
Maybe AU should start doing 16mm screenings just to keep the OG projection techniques alive!