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Open Spaces

Speculations on Openings, Closings, and Thresholds in International Public Media

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Posted by Patricia Zimmermann at 7:33PM
mobilities art work

48 hours to go until our FLEFF Kick Off event, Upstate Filmmakers Showcase, on Sunday, March 3 at 4 pm..

Why do we need to sell out this screening?

Digital conversion is the biggest challenge facing the film industry since the coming of sound in 1927. 

The digital conversion offers pristine images and perfect sound.  Scratches, sound compression, ripped films, and torn sprocket holes disappear, spectres of legacy analog forms.

No more yelling “focus” from your seat.  It will be perfect: a blissed out nirvana of image, sound, popcorn.

But behind all perfection lurks a nasty political economy that constitutes a David and Goliath story pitting the large and monied against the small and underresourced.

The large transnational media corporations and their ancillary boutique distributors have successfully pushed for DCP, the new format.  The cost savings for distributors is enormous: a 35mm print of a feature can cost anywhere between $2,000-5,000 for one print, while a DCP-basically a movie on a hard drive the size of an evening bag-  of the same film costs as little as $500.

The transnational media corporations stand to save over $1 billion a year through the conversion. And yes, that was NOT a typo.  1 billion a year. 

But what represents an enormous, greedy cost savings for distributors--most of whom are corporations larger than most nation states-- translates into a huge expenditure for exhibitors, especially for smaller art cinemas without corporate backing.

80% of all theaters in the United States have converted to digital projection.  Almost all of them are large chains like Cinemark and Regal, monsters in the entertainment industry food chains.

The remaining 20% are small art cinemas, local cinemas, museums, repertory venues,  and specialty houses.  They are community-based, often either locally owned, coops,  or non-profit. They show films no transnational multiplex would touch, such as almost any film with subtitles from a country other than the US.

According to entertainment industry trade press sources, somewhere between 1,000 to 2,000 cinemas will go dark by the end of this year.  They will go out of business, leaving a larger chunk of the viewing landscape to large corporate multiplexes. 

According to Scott Bliss, executive director of Cinemapolis, 35mm prints will be extinct as a first run exhibition medium by July 2013.

A digital projector costs between $65,000 to $80,000.  Cinemapolis has five screens--in fact, it is one of the only multiplexes for art cinema in the United States.  Two cinemas have at this writing been converted to digital.  The theater needs to raise $350,000 for the conversion.  They are about 2/3 of the way there,thanks to the generosity of contributions from the Ithaca community and its loyal movie-goers. 

The Upstate Filmmakers Showcase will be held in Cinema 5, which has 185 seats.  If we sell out, the digital conversion campaign receives in influx of $1,500--a significant contribution towards their goal. 

All of the filmmakers, the curator, and the moderator are donating their time and films on Sunday  to help the theater in this effort.

What can you do? 

Spread the word to all of your friends, explain to them how serious and pressing this current situation is. Forward the link to this blog.  Let them know their $8 is the best 8 bucks they ever spent.  It's the cost of two lattes.

And this 8 bucks--less than a a month's subscription to Netflix-- makes a strong stand for cinema beyond action films, superstars, spectacles, CGI, special effects.

8 bucks says NO to going dark.

It's a stand for cinema across borders.

It’s a stand for cinema with subtitles, bringing us into other worlds.

It’s  a stand for cinema with other people gathered together in  a public place.

It’s a stand for cinema for the rest of us ,with the rest of us.

Will we see you on Sunday, March 3, at Cinemapolis, at 4?  I hope so.


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