BELLINGHAM - The Pickford Film Center must raise $225,000 to buy new digital equipment to play movies because Hollywood is phasing out 35 mm film within the next year and focusing on one format.
The conversion to a digital cinema package is the "largest technological transition that exhibitors have faced in over 80 years," Alice Clark, the film center's executive director, wrote in letters sent to Pickford members this month.
A digital cinema package is a high-resolution digital projector and a digital server that accepts studio-secured hard drives.
By next year, all theaters across the country must have the equipment to play movies from the studios, including first-run art films like "Moonrise Kingdom" or "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," or they will have to shut down, according to the Pickford.
The Pickford wants to be able to have the equipment installed in February, at a cost of $75,000 for each of its three screens (including its Limelight Cinema on Cornwall Avenue).
The nonprofit hopes to raise $115,000 from individuals and businesses and $110,000 from private foundations, including the MJ Murdock Charitable Trust - which had contributed $175,000 to the Pickford to renovate its new home on Bay Street.
As of Friday, Nov. 23, the Pickford had raised $76,221 toward what it's calling its digital deadline.
"I'm really comfortable that we'll raise it," Clark said of the total dollars needed.
The shift to digital isn't a surprise, given that the seven major motion picture studios formed the Digital Cinema Initiatives in 2002 to develop standardized technical specifications.
What they also developed was a way to pay for the costly equipment that would be needed - using a formula that benefited the large, commercial theater chains but excluded independent art houses, according to the Pickford. (For the film industry, distributing movies digitally is less expensive than film.)
At first, the shift to a digital cinema package was voluntary - and the conversion didn't have a specific timeline. Before they received letters last December that warned of the 35 mm cutoff, the Pickford and other small theaters thought film would be around for at least another three years.
"We're all in this position now," said Michael Falter, the Pickford's program director.
As the film industry was having its discussions, small theater owners still were waiting to hear when the switch was going to happen, how it was going to happen, and whether they, too, would be helped through a buying program.
"That's why all the theaters across the country are scrambling to raise money," Clark said.
The final push toward the digital cinema package occurred when 35 mm film producers said they were eliminating them because demand from large theaters had dropped.
The Pickford spent years raising $3 million before opening its much-anticipated film center on Bay Street in April 2011. They didnt know about the deadline for the digital conversion then and wouldnt have had the money in their budget for the equipment anyway.
Plus, Falter said, the initial equipment was made for larger theaters - not smaller spaces like the Pickford's. New equipment expected out at the end of this year should address that need.
The shift could mean lights out for many small theaters if owners can't afford the equipment.
"I know that we will (raise the money), but I'm sad about other theaters," Clark said. "Smaller theaters in little towns may not make it, and they were already struggling before."
Reach Kie Relyea at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-715-2234.
HOW TO HELP
More on the Pickford Film Center's Digital Deadline, including how to donate, is online at pickfordcinema.org.
Reach KIE RELYEA at email@example.com or call 715-2234.