No matter how rural the North Country is, people should be able to see new movies on the big screen up here. Therefore we strongly support the Go Digital or Go Dark fundraising effort to help the region's vintage, family-owned movie houses convert to digital projection.
The six-month campaign is almost halfway over, and judging only from its website, things don't look good. Fortunately, there are other sources of revenue, but first, here are the online fundraising numbers for each of the participating cinemas, as of Friday afternoon on www.adirondack.org/GoDigital:
|The Strand||Old Forge||$18,370||$125,000||15%|
|Palace Theatre||Lake Placid||$9,880||$100,000||10%|
|State Theater||Tupper Lake||$1,705||$25,000||7%|
|Hollywood Theater||AuSable Forks||$3,180||$50,000||6%|
|The Strand||Schroon Lake||$75||$25,000||0%|
|Cinematheque||S. Glens Falls||$60||$20,000||0%|
Movies on film, as seen here at the Palace Theatre in Lake Placid, are being phased out and will no longer be available to cinemas starting in January.
(Enterprise file photo — Olivia Pepe)
Of the 10 originally participating theaters, two - the Indian Lake Theater and the Glen Drive-In of Queensbury - have successfully converted through their own efforts. Meanwhile, the Ogdensburg Cinema is reportedly tied up in local politics and was taken off the list this week. Its future is unclear.
The Lake Placid and Tupper Lake theaters have purchased digital projectors for one screen each, according to the Adirondack North Country Association, which, along with the Adirondack Film Society, is leading the campaign. The State, meanwhile, got in on a Tupper Lake microenterprise grant, and ANCA said it has more aid in the works.
That's good news, but time is tight. At the end of this year, the movie industry will no longer print movies on film.
In recognition of the time crunch, the North Country Regional Economic Development Council last month shuffled its state funding around to free up $400,000 for loans to help these theaters make the switch. We thank the NCREDC leaders for this timely aid.
Nevertheless, it's not enough for the whole project. These loans will help convert between four and eight screens. The Palace alone has four.
Plus, if cinema owners borrow from this pool of public funds, they will still have to pay the taxpayers back. How?
These family-owned cinemas will spend much of their own money to convert, but they have made it clear they can't afford the full $80,000 (on average) per screen that movie distribution companies will soon require.
One thing many people ask is, "Why don't they just pay for it by raising their prices?" We all love paying just $6 or $7 for a movie, but to be honest, we'd pay $2 more. Almost everyone else in the country pays $10 to $15.
The answer we've heard is, if they did that, almost all that money would go to the movie distributors rather than the theater. The companies run the show in many ways.
If the theaters don't go digital, they will no longer be able to show first-run feature movies as of January. They'd either have to shut down or switch to art-house and second-run movies, which they could do with much cheaper Blu-Ray systems like at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts. (The first-run distributors require only the more expensive systems.) The market for indie and repertory films is smaller, but certain communities could scrape by with it, especially when summer residents are here.
A place like Lake Placid, however, needs first-run movies, at least in two or three of the Palace's screens. There's a strong demand for that among thousands of tourists as well as residents throughout the region, who otherwise would have to drive an hour or more to see new movies. And without the State Theater, the town of Tupper Lake's 6,100 year-round residents would have to drive an hour-and-a-half to see a new movie. That's too far.
Therefore, the Go Digital or Go Dark campaign needs more people to donate, and also to jump in and help row the fundraising ship. Specifically, it needs volunteers with contacts and time to devote to some serious campaigning.
Now's the time, too, while summer residents are here in the Adirondacks.
That brings us to our big idea: an adopt-a-theater program among movie people. It might be too late to get this going, but for what it's worth, we'll lay it out anyway.
The Enterprise and some other North Country media have helped to get the word out up here, but it seems few people outside the region know about these cinemas' endangerment. We think that if people in the movie industry read in the national press, or in Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, that several of their quaintest venues are on the verge of going under, they'd want to help save them.
Unlike the multiplexes, the family-owned theaters up here are little changed from the golden age of Hollywood. Most North Americans see movies in nondescript concrete boxes, but we see them in Art Deco temples to one of our nation's most pervasive and distinctive art forms.
Actors, producers, directors, etc., have a vested career interest in this and the money to do something about it. If an entire region's worth of people - especially a popular visiting spot of the rich and famous - can't see the latest Steven Speilberg or Sandra Bullock movie, for instance, that hurts them.
Some of these folks have ties here, too. Sigourney Weaver, Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick are among the repeat visitors. Martin Scorcese and Steve Buscemi are among the many who've been featured at the Lake Placid Film Forum.
If an adopt-a-theater drive was presented in such a way to guarantee the generous patron some glowing publicity and lasting recognition in that theater's community - a plaque or a renaming, for instance - we're sure some of them would go for it. Moviemaking labor unions might as well.
To keep even half of our cinemas in business under their current model would not be easy, but if the campaign gets a big boost now, it can be done. Otherwise, although we'll welcome any silver linings, much will be lost.
(Correction: We have deleted a sentence in which ANCA reported, incorrectly, that the Palace Theatre is halfway to its fundraising goal. Palace co-owner Barbara Clark reports that it still needs $180,000 out of its total goal of $280,000. The $100,000 raised so far includes a $70,000 investment by the theater itself.)