A Crossroads for Independent Cinema|
January 9th, 2014 — by Sky Dylan-Robbins —
Since the birth of cinema, more than a century ago, film stock was the medium on which people made, and viewed, movies. But film projection as we know it is taking its last breaths. As of last month, more than ninety per cent of theatre screens in the United States are digital. The projectors that take 35-mm. film have been replaced by digital setups that use hard drives instead of film reels and play with the click of a mouse instead of with the flip of a switch. In place of film reels, digital cinema packages (called D.C.P.s) are the new industry standard. The conversion has been more than a decade in the making, and Hollywood is saving big: “About a billion dollars a year—that’s a pretty good deal for the studios,” Patrick Corcoran, of the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), told me.
Those suffering most from the conversion are independently owned and art-house theatres, which aren’t able to take advantage of the subsidies offered by distributors and don’t qualify for government funding, as nonprofit theatres do. With the help of crowd-funding Web sites and community backing, many have successfully converted. But plenty of small theatres haven’t been able to make the transition; as the industry idiom goes, they’ll soon “go digital or go dark.”
Bruce Mitchenson, who owns Fairview Cinema 3, a fifty-year-old, three-screen theatre in Hudson, New York, is one of them. Two of Mitchenson’s three screens still need to be converted to digital. Most recently, he’s been asking for a film print of “Inside Llewyn Davis.” (As of the date of this post, CBS Films is still trying to find one for him.) The majority of “Inside Llewyn Davis” prints, like those of most current studio pictures, were D.C.P.s.
With the advent of digital cinema, the flicker on the screen is gone. The picture is clear and crisp—perfect, really. It’s also cheaper to distribute digital content, and 3-D projection is available to those equipped with the new systems. But with this transition, the film industry is embarking on a series of technological upgrades that, for theatres that are not shielded by the umbrella of big money and big chains, are problematic.
The Fairview Cinema has raised twelve thousand dollars so far, roughly a quarter of what it costs to digitally outfit a theatre screen. “We just need a rich guy to help us—or two,” a volunteer handing out coffee cake at a recent fund-raiser said, laughing. Another volunteer, pouring coffee, added, “This is the story of the big guy trampling the little guy—the big-box stores coming in and getting rid of all the mom-and-pops. What would this world be with only Walmarts? We won’t let that happen.”
© 2014 THE NEW YORKER