by shakera lewis / photography by laura baker
Like everything else technology touches, the film industry as we know it is changing. In 2013, industry manufacturers stopped producing the previous method of release, 35 millimeter film prints, in favor of a digital option. As a result, movie theaters were forced to transition from film projection to digital cinema projection, and small and independent theaters struggled to keep up.
When hit by this crisis Athens’ local theater Ciné took action. The art house located on Hancock Avenue sought to stay open and remain the place for Athenians to see both classic and independent films. To do this, though, Ciné needed approximately $160,000 to pay for equipment to run these films.
Ciné used a Kickstarter profile to solicit the help of the community to raise $60,000 of the total, and got the rest from other generous donors. The Kickstarter ran from June 11, 2013 until August 18, 2013, generating $64,290. And while some small theaters choose to buy old digital projectors from larger theaters, the Kickstarter campaign and other fundraising techniques helped Ciné to buy all-new digital equipment for its theaters.
Co-president of Athens Film Arts Institute and film studies professor at the University of Georgia, Richard Neupert works closely with Ciné and recalls the decision to buy new equipment. “We actually had someone working for us for a while who thought going used would be a great cheap alternative for a small theater like us, and I rejected that immediately,” Neupert says. “You wouldn’t want to buy a five-year-old computer. Why would you want to buy a five-year-old digital projector?”
Alas, with all-new digital projectors Ciné would continue in its mission to “enrich the quality of life in Athens by presenting film and arts that inspire, educate, and build [the] community” with the means to show new films as well as classics.
Ciné’s new digital projectors present benefits both to film distributors to Ciné itself. Distributors reap a more financial benefit than small theaters. The expenses to make and ship 35mm prints is cut for distributors since they now must only ship hard drives to theaters compared to three or four 35mm reels per film. “It’s easier for them to make a whole bunch of hard drives and send out than to make very expensive 35mm prints that are good quality,” Neupert says. Conversely, small theaters benefit a consistency from digital projectors. With 35mm reels, wear and tear are common; however, with the digital system’s hard drives, this is no longer an obstacle. “Often we’ve had prints come in, where maybe the second reel out of six has a scratch in it and we have to quick[ly] send out for a new reel number two, and then we ship it back, and they ship us a new reel,” Neupert says. “That’s not a problem with digital. It’s all on one hard drive. When it’s there, it’s there. It’s all the same quality.”
Even with this new equipment, Ciné has no plans to abandon its 35mm projection system. Although the projectors take up more space than digital projectors, Neupert says they are still valuable. Keeping one 35mm projector “allows [Ciné] to show special screenings of things that aren’t on [digital cinema projection], and [35mm projection] is far superior than showing something on a DVD or Blu-Ray. And it allows special things, especially for retrospect.”
Under the direction of Pamela Kohn since January 2014, Ciné hopes to increase its showtimes with more late showings on weekends and more matinee showings throughout the summer and during vacation periods. “There is also interest in expanding with some specialized home-grown film festivals so that Ciné really is the hub of film activity in the Athens area,” Neupert says.
As for the film industry, Neupert says there is still a place for films shot on 35mm cameras. “Apparently there’s a huge resurgence, where people shooting on 35mm aren’t happy with the digital cameras,” Neupert says. So, some films like superhero summer blockbusters are shot solely with digital cameras, while some are shot using 35mm cameras but released on digital. Neupert says some cinematographers like using 35mm cameras “because you get the flexibility of post-production on digital, the ease and cheapness of having digital production, but you get a much more photographic image form 35mm cameras.” Still, some films are shot using a hybrid method, making use of both 35mm cameras and digital cameras, which is much more common, Neupert says. “There’s certain that are easiest to shoot digital [while] other scenes might be better in 35mm, so it’s become pretty normal.”