North of Buffalo, the nonprofit, community-owned Palace is looking into loans and grants for a $75,000 digital set up, but it's also going to have to upgrade its electrical system to accommodate the new equipment, said Phil Czarnecki, vice president of the board. He can't help but think of all the restoration of the building — a replica of the Paramount Theater in New York City that mixes Art Deco and Italian Renaissance style — that could be accomplished with such an outlay.
The small theaters already are feeling pressure from the digital conversions taking place all around them. Instead of waiting three weeks for a modern multiplex to make a movie print available, it now often takes six or seven weeks because there are fewer 35 mm copies in circulation. That's more than enough time for the pool of potential ticket-buyers to lose interest or see the movie somewhere else.
It's not just the cost of digital projection that concerns Edward Summer, president of the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival. He worries that once older movie houses make the switch, they'll do away with their 35 mm projectors, something he says would be "a hideous mistake."
Summer sees a potential tourism niche in historic theaters showing classic movies — and he worries that existing films that won't be digitized will be forever lost to audiences if the equipment isn't there to show them.
"Every motion picture made between 1894 and right this minute is on 35 mm film and those films not only still exist, but those film prints are the only way to see them," Summer said.
"It's not either/or," Summer said of the two projection technologies, "it's both/and."
The Palace's Herdendorf doesn't own a computer and isn't sure if his 17 years of splicing and dicing reels of film and threading them through a platter projection system will translate to the new technology with its pocket-size hard drives. He knows what to do if film breaks, but not if a computer freezes.
The Riviera eventually plans to display one of its 35 mm carbon arc projectors in the lobby, Cannata said, "so people can take a look at how films were shown at one time."
The Davis Theatre's Schwarzer jokes that her place's four projectors will become boat anchors. What's important, she said, is that the theater's doors stay open.
"We have such wonderful memories of this theater as children," she said. "You kind of like to think that kids that come now will have some of those memories, too."
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