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Last updated: Thu. Feb. 28, 2013 - 07:44 am EDT

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Fort Wayne's Cinema Center faces a choice: Go digital or go dark

Like everything else, 'film' industry challenged by new technology

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They're still called “films,” but like almost everything else the movie business is quickly going digital. And the imminent demise of an old medium is causing big problems for small operators.

Fort Wayne's Cinema Center, for example.

“Fox (studio) phased out its 35mm prints in January and by the end of the year most of the studios will do it, too,” said Jonah Crismore, executive director of the nonprofit film society at 437 E. Berry St. Founded in 1976, it specializes in independent, foreign, documentary and other specialty films that don't always appeal to mass audiences.

And that means the Cinema Center's relatively modest annual budget of about $260,000 will be challenged to find the $60,000 or more a digital projector will cost – not that Crismore has a choice. Without the new technology, he knows, the Cinema Center risks going dark in the not-too-distant future or will have to resort to cheaper and less-detailed digital options.

“Fox Searchlight (Pictures) is one of our biggest draws,” Crismore said of the studio's independent-film division that produced Cinema Center's current attraction – a profile of famed movie director Alfred Hitchcock that was booked prior to Fox's digital conversion. But although several films are scheduled after “Hitchcock” ends its run, Crismore has already been unable to book certain movies because they are being distributed in a format incompatible with equipment that hadn't changed all that much since George Eastman patented 35mm film in 1895.

“Figuring out how we're going to make this transition has been most of my job. The sooner the better,” said Crismore, who has asked Arts United and donors for help with an expense that may have to be repeated on a smaller scale every few years. Unlike film, digital technology never seems to stop evolving.

Artistically, that's a mixed blessing. Several directors have expressed concerns that the ongoing switch to digital photography will stifle their creativity, and Crismore finds images on film “warmer and crisper” than their electronic counterparts. Others, however, prefer digital for creative reasons and because they can shoot as much as they want without busting their budget on film that relies upon increasingly expensive silver. And unlike film, digital films do not degrade with each showing.

But in the end, this is mostly about money: added expense for people like Crismore and the opposite for movie studios. As Crismore noted, it costs about $1,500 to print one copy of a movie on 35mm film – an expense that becomes immense for main-line films shown on 4,000 or more screens nationwide. And that doesn't include the cost of mailing film containers that weigh about 75 pounds each.

A digital copy costs about $150 to produce and is much smaller, lighter and less costly to distribute. Digital technology also allows movies to be “streamed” over the Internet, bypassing the hard-pressed U.S. Postal Service entirely.

And if you think the studios will pass those savings on to the Cinema Center and other movie houses, well, don't hold your breath. Crismore isn't.

But his misery has company. Although most multiplexes have already installed digital technology, most art houses such as Cinema Center and commercial theaters in smaller towns have not. Even the grand old Embassy Theatre can't avoid the future forever.

“Eventually, we'll need to add digital,” Executive Director Kelly Updike said, noting that the Embassy – once the city's foremost movie palace – currently offers a film series focusing on silent films that makes use of the theater's pipe organ. You don't need digital technology to show silent movies. At least not yet.

But with only one-third of theaters expected to be using film by the end of this year, Crismore doesn't have the luxury of time – and neither do fans of the kind of movies that may not come to Fort Wayne at all if the Cinema Center can't show them.

Help end a grave injustice

Last October I wrote about how the Fort Wayne family of a woman killed in Indianapolis were trying to get the killer removed from a national cemetery near Battle Creek, Mich. Army veteran Michael Anderson, who shot himself after killing 45-year-old Alicia Koehl last May, was buried with full military honors despite federal regulations against such things for people who have committed capital crimes.

But Anderson still rests in hallowed ground and Alicia's mother-in-law, Carol Koehl, hopes public pressure can convince officials to correct this injustice. If you'd like to help, send a letter seeking Anderson's disinterment to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, attention Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, 810 Vermont Ave. NW, Washington DC, 20420.

The letters must reference Michael Leshaun Anderson, Social Security Number 386-88-5948, VA case file 8615270, who was buried in Fort Custer National Cemetery in violation of 38 U.S.C., paragraph 2411

kleininger@news-sentinel.com


This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com, or call him at 461-8355.


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