Independent theaters need help to avoid digital darkness

The News TribuneJanuary 7, 2013 

It took a community to save the Proctor District’s Blue Mouse theater.

But it wasn’t just generous folks here in the Tacoma area who raised money to equip the 89-year-old cinema for the digital age; a worldwide community of film lovers has chipped in with donations ranging from $10 to $5,000.

Contributions have flowed in from 13 other states, Europe and even Australia after theater organizers posted an appeal on Kickstarter.com, the world’s largest “crowd-funding” site for projects related to the creative arts.

As of Friday, the Blue Mouse’s Kickstarter campaign had raised $77,200 – exceeding its $75,000 goal. Organizers will put the surplus to good use: enhancing the theater’s acoustics.

The Blue Mouse’s dilemma is one facing independent theaters all over the country, including a handful in the South Sound. This year the film industry is converting to all-digital technology, requiring new projection systems. The cost: about $75,000 per screen.

The conversion isn’t a big problem for the multiplexes, most of which have already gone to digital. But independents are struggling to come up with the money to make the switch, and many are expected to close.

Local independent theaters trying to raise money for conversion include Tacoma’s Grand Cinema, which needs $344,000 to convert four screens; the Olympia Film Society in the 90-year-old Capitol Theater, which hopes to raise $80,000; and the Roxy Theater in Eatonville, where a grass-roots fund drive is under way to save the theater that has operated since 1942.

The Roxy also has a Kickstarter campaign but has raised only $1,040 toward its $20,000 goal. No money is awarded if the goal isn’t reached by the Jan. 14 deadline.

It would be especially unfortunate if small-town theaters like the Roxy were to close due to the digital conversion. Although people have many more entertainment options than they used to – cable TV, streaming, even movies on their mobile phones – there’s nothing quite like seeing a movie on a big screen.

Let’s hope the generosity that poured out for the Blue Mouse will also keep the South Sound’s other independent theaters from going dark.

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