A $3 Saturday matinee with friends or family, the smell of fresh popcorn, a bag of candy, a fountain pop—it’s the stuff memories are made of. But a year from now, families in the greater Cedar Springs area may not have the chance to make those memories at the historic Kent Theatre.
The theatre was built as the Hubbard Opera House in 1880, and over the years was used for all types of entertainment and gatherings, including movies (both silent and talkie). It closed as a theater in 1975. The current CSTA bought it in 1998, and the volunteers have worked non-stop, despite financial difficulty, to fundraise and make improvements to this historic landmark. A dedicated group of volunteers brought the theatre back to showing low-cost, first run 35mm movies two years ago, but with the advancements in technology, that is now in jeopardy.
According to Wanda Holst, film buyer for Goodrich Theaters, 35mm films are being phased out in favor of digital downloads, which uses a digital projector—something the Kent Theatre doesn’t have. And it costs between $50,000 and $60,000.“The experts are saying that by the end of 2012, or sometime in 2013, 35mm is going away,” explained Holst.
The Kent has already felt the pinch, with not enough 35mm prints available to go around. They had to delay the showing of “Courageous” about a week in November, and turned away about 50 people expecting to see it the week it was originally scheduled.
And it’s expected to only get worse in 2012.
That’s a problem for the nonprofit, a 501-3c, who makes most of their money for operations from the films (about 50 percent of ticket sales) and concessions.
There are only a handful of theaters left in West Michigan without digital projectors, and the Kent is one of them. While projectors are costly to purchase, savings in volunteer time and quality of the movies is immense. “We could download a clean, undamaged copy,” explained Len Allington, president of the Cedar Springs Theatre Association. He said that currently it takes many hours for volunteers, such as theater manager Dan Randall, to put the film together and then watch it to make sure there are no bad spots.
“Although film projectionists love what they do and love to hear the click-click-click of the rolling film, by switching to the digital we will get a more consistent high quality movie and be able to show it almost immediately instead of putting it together and then tearing it down,” he said.
Allington trusts what Goodrich is telling them about the future of film. “They have been one of our most generous and longtime supporters,” he explained. “They helped set up our original sound system, and donated thousands of dollars worth of equipment. They’ve been invaluable in showing us how to get movies.”
Raising money for the projector will need to come through grants or donations. “We don’t often ask for money, but we really need donations from those that can do it,” said Len Allington. “We really don’t want to raise ticket prices,” he added.
If you’d like to donate to the Kent for a new digital projector, you can take a tax deduction if you donate by the end of the year. Make the check out to the Cedar Springs Theatre Association, and designate it for the new digital projector fund. Mail it to the CSTA, PO 237K, Cedar Springs, MI 49319.