On an evening in which the world will be celebrating movies because of the Oscars, many of the independent theaters across the U.S. that do so the entire year will be sweating over their future. With movie studios finally making good on threats to eliminate the circulation of 35mm prints in favor of digital projection, theaters that can’t come up with around $75,000, give or take, per screen are in danger of going dark, with the independents facing an even more perilous fate than what they endure year-around from the major chains since studios are willing to foot a healthy portion of the bill of digital conversion for the likes of AMC and Regal.
In recent months, this has led to numerous campaigns on crowdsourcing sites such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo to raise money for the many arthouses and single-screen theaters that are facing extinction and with it the unique cinematic experiences that such places have to offer. A sad many of them have failed to reach their goals, yet there have been just as many that have succeeded and demonstrated in the process the way communities still form around film. That’s why we’re hopeful that these five theaters below will fall into the latter category when it comes to their ongoing crowdsourced campaigns, all of them deserving of attention. (Each theater name leads to its respective crowdsourcing page.)
The Hollywood Theater in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
In “Perks of Being a Wallflower,” writer/director Stephen Chbosky immortalized The Hollywood Theater onscreen with the fond recollection of how the Saturday nights he spent at the theater’s raucous screenings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” were a life-changing event for him. However, the Hollywood is currently fighting for its life – as noted by the theater’s IndieGoGo campaign, they couldn’t even show “Perks” because they didn’t have a digital projector. It’s deeply saddening to think that future generations won’t be able to enjoy the same eclectic programming that spoke to folks like Chbosky as he was growing up and continues to this day with a mix of indies, documentaries and cleverly picked cult flicks at one of Pittsburgh’s last remaining single-screen cinema.
But the Hollywood has proved as resilient in its 80-year history as the zombies in George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” that was filmed nearby, weathering other threats to its survival in recent years while changing hands three times in the past decade. The last of those moves made it a nonprofit, which has allowed the Friends of the Hollywood Theater to concentrate on the kind of community-building events that remind us why we love going to the movies in the first place. Hopefully, the community can return the favor before the March 21st deadline.
The Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts
While Cambridge is a city that’s long been known for its universities, it’s another institution that been providing an invaluable education for the locals – the historic Brattle Theatre, which has played host to countless celebratory retrospectives over the years for everyone from its founder Cyrus Harvey Jr., who went on to found Janus Films, and composer Nino Rota to master directors ranging from Jacques Tati to Ang Lee. Now is the time they could use a little nourishment in return. After all, a theater that has been around in one form or another since 1890 and a movie house since 1953 is bound to have a few things that could use an upgrade.
For the Brattle, it’s both a new digital projector and a HVAC ventilation system that will keep the theater as cool as the films they show. Like the aforementioned Hollywood Theatre, the Brattle became a nonprofit in 2001 under the auspices of the Brattle Film Foundation with a mission to strengthen the local community through cinema while upholding their longtime commitment to bringing the world to the Boston area. No wonder they’ve raised over $100,000 since launching their Kickstarter campaign in late January, but they still need a little more help before their February 28th deadline.
The Armour in Kansas City, Missouri
Currently on their Facebook page, Kansas City’s Armour Theater is taking a vote for the last film they’ll show in 35mm, a choice between “Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Fight Club,” “Raising Arizona,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “The Godfather” and “Pulp Fiction.” While the chance to see the Coen Brothers classic, which at the time of publication is in the lead, shouldn’t ever be seen as a sad event, it will be if the 85-year-old theater doesn’t raise the amount needed to finalize their purchase of two new digital projectors to ensure a future of screening the same mix of crowd-pleasing repertory flicks such as “The Big Lebowski” and “Rushmore” and first-run features that’s been their bread and butter over the years. They’ve added events such as trivia nights and guest appearances by the likes of Judah Friedlander (who makes a cameo in their Kickstarter video) and the Whitest Kids U’ Know in recent times, but movies are still the main attraction and with a little assistance from the crowd before an April 6th deadline, they’ll continue to be.
In this day and age, drive-in theater experiences are especially unique – at last count, only 368 still exist in the U.S. – which is why the crowdsourcing campaigns for the Tower Drive-In and the Riverside Drive-In are particularly important to preserve. Both theaters are one-of-a-kind in their way. For the farming community of Rule, the Tower has been the only game in town for movies since 1955 and has been the place for families to snuggle up to watch films such as “Brave” on the weekend, a tradition they hope to continue now that owner Deon Gordon has located a digital projector that’s within the theater’s price range to make the digital conversion, but still needs help in making it a reality before a March 9th deadline.
The Riverside Drive-In faces a little more competition in their neck of the woods, yet when it comes to programming, they have distinguished themselves with their programming. Having faced its fair share of ups and downs throughout the years under different owners, the Riverside endured a few gaps in operation since opening in the early 1950s until 2005 when it was rechristened and started a tradition of showing monster movie marathons to accompany the first-run films they regularly show. No doubt this spring’s April Ghouls Monster-Rama featuring 35mm prints of “The Thing with Two Heads,” “The Return of the Living Dead” and other spine-tingling offerings will once again bring out audiences from far and wide, yet if they don’t upgrade to digital projection by the time the Super Drive-In Monster-Rama rolls around in September, they may have to close their doors for good. With the help of the crowd by an April 13th deadline, hopefully they’ll be scaring up audiences for years to come.