For the Adirondack Film Society, it’s not just about staving off the extinction of local theaters.
The goal of generating grant monies and donations to help several local theaters convert to digital projectors and screens is not just about survival, but about the chance to allow these small, independent theater owners to remain just that — independent.
“This is a bold project to tackle an issue that is facing small, rural theaters in the North Country,” Film Society Chairman John Huttlinger said. “Our goal is to help people experience film and to make all forms more accessible to the greatest amount of people possible, but that cannot happen if these theaters cannot make the transition to digital technology.”
The Film Society, along with the help of consultant Naj Wikoff, has applied for a consolidated grant through the state to help local theaters, including the Hollywood in Au Sable Forks, the Palace in Lake Placid and the State Theater in Tupper Lake along with 10 others secure funding to make the transition from film projection to digital. Movie production companies have given theaters until the end of next year to make the change, when they will no longer send out movies on film.
“This is a forced conversion where film will no longer be the medium for film,” Nelson Page, Vice Chairman of the society, said. “You have to replace all of the existing equipment — electric, speakers, amplifiers, screens and projectors. This is a price that is prohibitive for any local business and will force many theaters to go out of business.”
“Many of these theaters are the anchors of the downtown and part of the social fabric of the community,” Huttlinger said. “A lot of them are also part of the history of the community, as they are housed in historic buildings. We need a lot of help from the public to help influence the decision for this grant and make sure that we receive funding.”
“We are at the center of a community and we do this because we love it,” Hollywood owner Corey Hanff, whose first job was at the Palace Theater, said. “I can’t understand why we are being asked to spend extra money when the end goal will be to make the same amount that we are now.”
The grant application seeks $2,180,929 in funding from the state, leaving local theaters with a share of $726,976 to generate on their own.
Wikoff said that without the grant, the movie business could fade to black in the Adirondacks.
“Just imagine that there is not a single movie screen in the Adirondack Park being open within one year from now,” Wikoff said. “We are looking at a total of 37 screens that include two drive-ins. The ramifications are profound.”
Huttlinger said that the society has conducted a study of those who attend movies in the park that finds a generation of $11 million in revenue for local businesses in total. That is why they believe that the best solution to the problem is for the local businesses to own their screens.
“They can put on their own shows rather than just being able to have first-run movies,” Wikoff said. “We want to do more than just help them stay in business and keep the doors open. We want to help create a whole new business model for the small theater.”