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FAQ — Digital Cinema

What is driving the shift to Digital Cinema?

The movie industry has been trying to make this change for the last decade. The main reason is economics. Digital content can be delivered on hard drives and data transfers rather than shipped in heavy containers. Film prints are also costly to make, adding up to $1,500 to $2,000 apiece. This can add up to millions of dollars per year for distributors.

Also increasingly “films” are shot digitally and distributors are reluctant to convert them back to prints. The exact percentage of digital/film is difficult to say because it is changing rapidly but it is probably at least 50/50 for art films.

Hundreds of 35mm prints of older films have been cleared from distributors’ shelves and now even these copies are increasingly difficult to obtain.

What happens if we don’t convert to Digital Cinema?

We will have to close our doors as a cinema.  The big arthouse hits won’t screen at the Nineteenth Street Theatre (or Theatre 514) and there will be a chain of financial consequences for Civic.

Tickets from those large tent-pole films like The King’s Speech and Midnight in Paris let us show lesser-known films.  They also help to support the overall costs of operating the Nineteenth Street Theatre for many activities, including live theatre, children’s theatre and concerts.

Will 35 mm films cease to exist?

There may be a few new release film prints made.  But those few prints may never make it to smaller markets like ours nor will they measure up to the cultural richness and diversity of what we experience now with art film screenings at Civic.  Some moviemakers may continue to film using 35 mm but digital editing is now standard post-production.  Moviemaking 35 mm cameras are no longer being manufactured except by special order.

What are other theatres doing?

The switch from film to digital is happening on a global scale.  Here in North America, the National Association of Theatre Owners predicts that 20 percent of North American theaters, representing some 10,000 screens, will not be able to afford the conversion and will likely disappear for good.  Most arthouse theatres are approaching the challenge in the same way as Civic.  They are reaching out to their local communities to raise the funds needed to make the digital leap.

Can you lease the required equipment?

We have researched distributors’ offers to “help theaters” with plans that provide finance, but these options come with many strings attached and would mean that our films would be selected by the distributor and not Civic.  In addition, most of the financing are structured to benefit the large cinemas with multiple screens.

What are the benefits of Digital Cinema?

Digital cinema offer pictures amazingly sharp and bright pictures and crisp, clear sound.   It is a giant leap forward in the future of film presentation. Digital projectors are also quiet, compact, and lightweight. Films can be changed in minutes instead of hours.

What does the future hold? A digital cinema system will increase the possibilities for programming.  That might include a series of digitally restored classic and silent films or even a film festival. It will also offer the opportunity to present high-definition broadcasts of dance, theatre, concerts and other special events.

What are you doing at Theatre 514?

In August, we installed a mini-theatre high-definition digital projector and a Blu-ray optical disc player that uses our existing Dolby sound system.  The Nineteenth Street Theatre must use a much more expensive projector and server to achieve the resolution, frame rate and security standards required for its large cinema screen. A full-length movie for Nineteenth Street would be compressed to 200 gigabytes compared to 20 to 50 gigabytes for a Blu-ray.

There is no going back to film. Digital is the future if  Civic Theatre of Allentown is to keep alive its 80-year-old legacy as a cinema.