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The Roanoke Times | File 2009
The digital conversion will cost Roanoke's Grandin Theatre at least $210,000.
Friday, April 5, 2013
The movie industry has spoken — after this year, new movies will no longer be released on 35mm film. As a result, those theaters that don’t switch to digital projectors won’t be able to show first-run releases.
To make the switch, independent movie theaters in the region have turned to the public for help.
The Buchanan Theatre installed its projector in November but still needs to pay off the $60,000 expense. The all-volunteer organization that runs the historical movie house is hosting a fund-raising gala with music, hors d’oeuvres and croquet, called “An Evening of Elegance,” on April 13.
“This is the first time we’ve done something like this,” said Sharon Coleman , president of non-profit Standing Room Only.
The Grandin Theatre in Roanoke and the Lyric Theatre in Blacksburg also have ongoing fund drives to pay for the expensive new equipment.
Both theaters have put in the order for digital projectors but have run into another common problem — the equipment is on back order.
“The demand for the units is high,” said Mark Arciaga , the Lyric’s production manager. “Many, many theaters are converting this year.” He said the Lyric ordered its projector at the end of last year and still hasn’t received it.
The Grandin hoped to have its equipment installed earlier this week so it would be in place for its first film festival, which starts April 19. It’s unclear when the new projectors will arrive.
The digital conversion is costing the Grandin at least $210,000, said executive director Kathy Chittum . All four of its screens will have digital projection, she said.
Luckily, the theater already has most of the money in hand. The Grandin has been able to raise $182,000 so far, including $95,000 from the Roanoke Valley Women’s Foundation, a $50,000 Taubman Foundation Sustainability Grant and $37,000 from theater members.
In March, the Grandin launched a campaign asking the public for donations. That’s raised about $4,000; there’s still about $24,000 to go. “We don’t get federal or state money,” Chittum said. “Every $10 is significant.”
Both the Grandin and the Lyric intend to keep a 35mm projection system on hand to make it possible to screen films that can’t be shown any other way.
“It’s just such a bittersweet time for me, because I’m just such a film person,” Chittum said.
The Lyric’s conversion costs about $120,000. The theater had a surplus set aside to help with the expense and has received donations from members. Even so, the Lyric has about $30,000 left to raise, Arciaga said.
Hull’s Drive-In Theatre in Lexington got off to an earlier start, raising $82,000 and installing its digital projection system last summer during Independence Day weekend. “Thanks to the generosity of our patrons, we had some funding available to do a complete renovation to our 1950’s Concession Stand this winter as well,” wrote executive director Maggi George in an email.
The Starlite Drive-In Theater in Christiansburg also made the switch last summer.
The Buchanan Theatre has it a little easier than its counterparts because it had no 35mm system to dismantle. The theater was using DVDs to show its films, so its new digital system constitutes an upgrade. “We even kept our DVD system so that we would still have that option,” Coleman said.
“An Evening of Elegance” is also intended to raise awareness of the theater, which was reopened by volunteers in 2002 after being closed for 17 years. It mostly shows second-run films at low ticket prices. The theater has $49,000 to go to pay off its new equipment, so the gala likely won’t be the last fundraiser.
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