Starting Friday, people who go to Real Art Ways to see a movie will notice something new before the feature presentation.
The Hartford arts venue has filmed a series of short promotional movies to spread the word that money must be raised to upgrade the theater's 35mm projection system to digital.
"Most of the country's done it already. These films show that we need to get our act together and kick [fund-raising] into high gear or we won't be able to show films any more," said Taryn Bunger, spokeswoman for Real Art Ways.
The promo films jokingly show how much everyday technology has changed since 1996, which was the year the cinema opened.
"We're not using VCRs anymore. ... Polaroid cameras, a discman, Nintendo games. ... This is something anybody can identify with," Bunger said.
Real Art Ways has raised some money for the conversion, but needs $30,000 more. After the conversion, the cinema will keep its 35mm projectors to show classic films, but use the DCP (digital cinema package) system on a day-to-day basis.
Cinema owners have known for years that the time was coming that 35mm projection would become obsolete. It was generally accepted that last New Year's was the deadline for "go digital or go dark." After that deadline, only a very few 35mm prints would be distributed, and would be much more difficult for non-digital theaters to get.
First-run movie theaters for the most part obeyed that deadline. Most are chains, so the expense of converting 35mm projection booths into digital projection could be spread out chain-wide. Also, those first-runs that didn't go digital would have to compete for those few 35mm prints, and there are too many first-run screens to make this workable.
Small, independent theaters without a shared store of cash to dip into have had a harder time raising funds. Now, time is of the essence.
Real Art Ways has been showing some movies by Blu-Ray for several months now.
A Struggle For Others
Other theater owners say the same thing. Ali Davis is owner and manager of operations at Parkade Cinemas in Manchester, the only second-run theater in the Hartford area. (Or as he calls it, a 'first-run moveover theater.") Davis said traditionally the Parkade has gotten films one to two months after their nationwide release. That lag time is stretching out, and the runs of the films getting longer, because of the difficulty of finding 35mm prints.
Ali said the Parkade will not survive the summer unless at least two of the theater's four screens are converted to digital projection by then. "We can't lose the summer season. If we miss that season our theater could not stand the loss," Davis said.
But Davis also said that even if the money is raised and is spent converting from 35mm to digital, the theater may go under anyway if it doesn't draw crowds. "We just may not have the patronage we need to support this upgrade," Davis said of the $150,000-$200,000 digital conversion. "After spending all that money, it would be imperative that we do well."
The theater's $5 admission price is an incentive to draw crowds, but Davis has been hedging his bets lately, posting signs around east-of-the-river towns and cities reminding people that the "Bargain Movie Theater" exists. "They've helped some," he said.
The Aetna Theater at Wadsworth Atheneum also is fund-raising to go digital. Deborah Gaudet, curator of film and theater, said the cinema shows 35mm prints for some movies, and has a Blu-Ray projector for others.
The Garde Arts Center in New London, which has shown movies for 87 years, has reached the 75 percent mark in its $361,000 "Save Movies at the Garde" fund drive. To contribute a tax-deductible donation to the Garde's campaign, visit http://www.gardearts.org/savemovies or call 860-444-4430.
Cinestudio, at Trinity College in Hartford, staged an aggressive fund-raising campaign in 2012, raising $200,000 from audiences, supporters and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving to go digital.
The Mansfield Drive-In took out a bank loan to convert to digital projection in the winter of 2011-2012.
Last year, the Pleasant Valley Drive-In in Barkhamsted announced its intention to go digital if funds were raised. Messages to the owners of that theater were unanswered at press time.