Save Our Screens wants the show to go on at rural cinemas, like the Sands in Brush
With the pricey switch from 35mm projection systems to Digital Cinema Projection on the horizon, small-town movie theaters face a crisis. As of 2014, the majority of new films as well as re-releases coming out of Hollywood will no longer be produced on 35mm, and the equipment needed to show the new format doesn't come cheap.
The Sands Theatre in Brush, Colorado.
Local non-profit Downtown Colorado Inc. saw the challenge for modest local movie- theater operations and wanted to help. And so Save Our Screens was born, a program through which DCI advocates, educates and assists in connecting indie theaters with funding for a smoother technological transition to the digital world. In conjunction with the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, the Colorado Small Business Development Center Network, the Denver Film Society, the Gates Foundation and Boettcher Foundation, DCI hopes to keep rural theaters alive.
"What happened was, about a year ago a couple of our communities -- the city of Brush in particular -- came to us and said, you know, we don't exactly know what we should do. We have a theater on our main street and it is supposed to convert to digital projectors, and we don't know how we're going to do it," says Katherine Correll, executive director of Downtown Colorado Inc.
Flickr. The Jones Theater in Westcliffe, Colorado.
With a small staff of just two people, DCI works with communities across Colorado to preserve city centers and downtown areas through a variety of means. The Digital Cinema Projection transition was an issue right up DCI's alley -- with many small towns, a movie theater is often the biggest attraction on a main street. Without an operational cinema, many of these towns were looking at losing out on the foot traffic that theaters bring, along with the prospect of a vacant building -- which never bodes well for surrounding businesses, not to mention the theater itself.
"The Sands in Brush is the theater that really brought this to our attention," says Correll. "When you think about it, that theater it is not just a business -- it is at gathering place, it is a cultural activity, it is the thing that keeps the kids and families there on Saturday night, instead of driving to the next biggest town. It is really important cultural piece of all of our communities in Colorado -- even looking in Denver at the Mayan Theatre or the Esquire, some of these older theaters. They really do play an important role in in our communities. But in these smaller, rural areas, it is the thing to do. It is the thing, and they only have that one thing. It's like losing the post office or the grocery store; it is key to the survival of that community."
Colorado film commissioner Donald Zuckerman echoes Correll's concerns. "Everybody feels that if you're a small town and you're lucky enough to have a theater -- usually it's a historic theater -- and it is the centerpiece of your downtown and you can't get product, a number of things are going to happen," he shares. "You're probably going to close -- and what kind of effect will that have on the other small businesses in that downtown? They could start to shutter, one by one, and all of a sudden you have an abandoned downtown.
"The other thing is that it's hard for these communities to keep their young kids there, anyway," he continues. "If you've got a teenager, do you want them driving forty miles to the neighboring town to watch a movie on a Friday night or Saturday night? Probably not. It becomes dangerous. Everybody just universally felt that it was something that necessary."