1939 Movie Theater Upgrades to Digital as Film Era Comes to a Close

Adrianne Palicki, Bruce Willis, and Dwayne Johnson in 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation.' 'G.I. Joe' will be the last reel to reel film shown at The Ridgefield Playhouse before the film house switches to digital.


Sunday night, May 12, will mark the end of an era as the last 35 millimeter film is shown at The Ridgefield Playhouse. At 6pm, G.I. Joe: Retaliation will run as the last reel-to-reel film before the Playhouse takes the leap into the digital film age. On Monday, May 13, the digital projector installation will take place, and the first digital film will be shown on Monday, May 20. Local artist Chris Curnan is removing the old projector and will be creating a piece of artwork with it.


“We’re not sure if we’ll be auctioning that off for fundraising or if we’ll keep it as a piece of artwork in front of the Playhouse,” said Allison Stockel, Executive Director of the not-for-profit Playhouse.


“As the motion picture industry heads into the ‘digital only’ format, many smaller theaters are being forced to give up their film projectors and replace them with digital ones,” Stockel continued. “The Ridgefield Playhouse, which was built in 1939, is a wonderful old movie theater, but we are not antiquated, so it’s important that we stay current…and staying current isn’t always affordable. However, thanks to many donors who understand the need for us to continue to show film, including Val and Greg Jensen who are opening the new movie theater The Prospector in Ridgefield next year, we have been able to purchase, and will now install, a digital projector. We’ve worked hard to keep this theater open through tough financial times, and we will not let this aspect of our mission cease to exist. As long as the Playhouse is here, we will show movies – first run, documentaries, Film Society events and more — and continue to fulfill our original mission.”


Many other smaller theaters may have to close their doors if they do not make the switch.


“By the end of 2013, there won’t be any film distributed anymore,” said John Fithian, President and Chief Executive of the National Association of Theater Owners. “The Hollywood studios’ industry-wide conversion from 35 mm film to digital satisfies modern-day demands for crisp clarity, cost savings and special effects like 3-D. And for big-budget theaters where new releases occupy multiple screens, installing digital projectors is a no-brainer. Already, about 60 percent have converted in the United States, at a price of $70,000 to $80,000 a screen,” Fithian said.


The new digital projector will also allow The Ridgefield Playhouse to work closely The Prospector when it opens and serve almost as a “fourth screen;” it will also allow the two film houses to plan film festivals jointly. “This is particularly exciting to me,” continued Stockel, “because we’re within walking distance of one another as are many wonderful restaurants, which would be a great thing for the town.”


This may be the end of one era for the Playhouse, but it’s the beginning of a brand new digital one. For more information about upcoming films and live events, visit ridgefieldplayhouse.org, or call the box office at (203)438-5795. The Ridgefield Playhouse is a not-for-profit performing arts center located at 80 East Ridge, parallel to Main Street, in Ridgefield, Connecticut.

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