One of the fond memories I have about my childhood in the Adirondacks was when my parents would decide to take us to a movie at a small theater in a nearby town. It also served as a performance venue for various bands, stage shows, and the community theater. It was always a special treat to go, and to this day, I still love to go to a movie, buy a bucket of popcorn, and watch a movie in the theater. When I moved back here, the theater was still going, until 2006, when the owner decided to close it. After two years of effort and organization, it was taken over by a community group and reopened, to everyone’s delight. But recently, another threat loomed on the horizon, and it wasn’t just this theater that is facing it.
At the end of this year, many studios will stop making 35mm film prints, instead going to “digital distribution.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune reported Saturday that by the end of the coming year the six major movie studios will only release new titles in digital format. The old 35-millimeter film format won’t be an option.
That means theaters with mechanical projectors face spending $70,000 to $85,000 apiece to upgrade to digital versions.
Which is beyond most of their means.
Big chains can afford the digital transition, which can be cheaper when buying in bulk for multiscreen theaters. But those who own smaller theaters with one or two screens typically must take out a bank loan to pay for the equipment.
A film industry program can refund up to 80 percent of the cost to theater owners, but the payments are made gradually through fees based on the number of movies shown. To qualify for the help, theaters must have certain profit levels and show a minimum number of films, leaving many small operators without help.
It’s an issue we’re facing here in the Adirondacks as well. Which is why the Adirondack North Country Association has started it’s “Go Digital or Go Dark” campaign:
Our small-town theaters are vital to keeping downtowns alive and serve an important role in ensuring strong, vibrant communities. ANCA and the Adirondack Film Society are working to make sure our small town theaters don’t go dark. Working with 10 theaters across Northern New York, the “Go Digital or Go Dark” campaign is raising money for each theater to complete needed digital upgrade work this summer. This is a one-time campaign to save these theaters from shutting their doors.
The video is from this campaign. The theaters aren’t just “entertainment,” they’re also community centers and important as part of local economy. In the summers, the theaters – particularly on a rainy evening – are often packed with people, many of whom are taking their children out to the movies. None of them are owned by major chains, or are hugely profitable, but they’re important to us. The good news for my town is that our theater is “going digital” this weekend. But there are others out there in the Adirondacks which haven’t yet, and need the help to make the switch.
Some of my best memories from my youth revolve around that theater, and many the young people today will have their own memories in the years to come. But in many towns around the country, it will only be memories of the old that remain, because the theaters will “go dark.” Besides the ANCA’s effort, look for your own local theater to see if it needs help, so the next generation can have the same nostalgia you do.