LAKE PLACID - The four-screen Palace Theatre has been a popular place for the movie-going public since it opened in 1926.
But it could be in trouble. The companies that distribute the films like the ones you could see at the Palace this week, such as "Men in Black 3" or "Marvel's The Avengers," are cutting back on the number of 35mm prints they are making. Instead, they're favoring digital forms of the movies.
The problem with that is small movie theaters like the Palace can't necessarily afford the $80,000 estimated cost for installing digital projectors. For a theater like the Palace with four screens, that would mean a quarter-million dollar investment on something that would only maintain the number of visitors it has now, rather than bringing in new visitors or other new revenue.
The Palace Theatre in Lake Placid as seen on June 8.
Photo/Richard Rosentreter/Lake Placid News
That dilemma will highlight this year's Lake Placid Film Forum. Since it started 12 years ago, the local Film Forum has based most of its events at the Palace Theatre.
"We've always used the Palace," said T.J. Brearton, who heads up organizing the forum each year. "We have a great relationship with them."
He said the Palace is almost taken for granted because it's been there so long, but it would have a strong cultural impact if it was suddenly forced to close.
Brearton said that distributors stop making prints of movies, small movies theaters like the Palace around the North Country will face the choice of finding tens of thousands of dollars to replace each projector with digital ones, or finding other ways to stay afloat.
Some theaters could struggle along with waiting to play new movies until after their first run, while others could turn into nostalgic cinemas, playing classic movies like "The Goonies" or "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."
A quick Google search on the topic shows a number of small theaters across the country raising money for their digital conversion.
"It's just been a conversation that's been brewing for more than a year," Brearton said. "We thought this year, you know, it's a good time to address it, to raise awareness and look at the creative alternatives."
The main panel discussion will focus on the topic. The free event will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 16, at the Palace Theatre.
Palace Theatre owner Reg Clark said he doesn't know much about the digital conversion options yet, so he's looking forward to the panel discussion so he can learn more about it.
"Financially, it's going to be a very difficult thing," Clark said. "We have four theaters we have to convert.
"I'm waiting to see what happens."
Sally Strasser, who owns the Adirondack State Theater in Tupper Lake, said she's hoping to make it to the forum because she said the topic is so important. She's not sure if she'll be able to make it, though, because she's supposed to be working the other job she has running a corporate screening room for Disney in New York City, which she has to keep up in order to subsidize her theater.
Being involved with distributors through her other job, Strasser has been keeping close tabs on the digital conversion issue. There are several companies that are offering programs to help finance the conversion. But those programs require that if a small theater takes a night off from running first-run movies, the theater has to pay the company a fee.
That's tough for a small company like Strasser's. She likes to be able to take a night off from regular programming and run different movies. When the movie "The Recreator," which was filmed in and around Tupper Lake, opened in 2010, Strasser held a screening at her theater. She also doesn't feel comfortable with being strapped in to strict guidelines with her market potentially changing significantly with the anticipated development of a large-scale resort in town, the Adirondack Club and Resort.
"That doesn't allow you the versatility you need," Strasser said. "A small company has to be adaptive. You have to be able to adapt to your community.
"All these programs really favor a large company. It is hard."
Because of that, Strasser is trying to find other ways to fund her theater's conversion. She said she has a number of lines in the water, including things like applying for a grant at www.missionsmallbusiness.com, where people can vote for her project. She's also looking for used digital equipment, which would be more affordable - but that is difficult to find.
Many theaters across the U.S. are using grassroots fundraising campaigns to get the money for the conversion. But Strasser said she's not sure she's comfortable with that after the theater was already saved once in the 1980s through that type of fundraising.
"Tupper Lake gives to everything," Strasser said. "It's a hard question for me. They're very supportive of the theater, but they've already saved that theater once. Do I have the right to ask them again? I'm struggling with that."
If none of her other options work, Strasser said she'll have to take on a partner.
Either way, the Adirondack State Theater will survive the conversion, Strasser said.
"I'm going to come out all right in the end," Strasser said. "It's going to be there. It's going to happen. It may not happen the way I wanted it to, but it will work."
The Saturday panel discussion on the topic will be moderated by Alan Hofmanis. Hofmanis was director of the forum for the first four years it ran, and was responsible for the event's biggest year during which Martin Scorsese was a guest. He is currently producing a documentary and spent seven years as a programmer for the cinema arts center on Long Island.
The panel will also feature Betsy Lowe, former state Department of Environmental Conservation regional director and the creative force behind the launch of Tupper Lake's The Wild Center natural history museum; Bill Coppard, who has shepherded Rochester's Little Theater, an independent movie theater in Rochester, through the process of becoming a nonprofit organization; and Nelson Page, vice chair of the Adirondack Film Society and a chain theater owner in New Jersey. Page brings up the silent film each year and assists with the maintenance of the 1926 Robert Morton Theater Organ at the Palace Theatre.
In addition to the panel discussion, Brearton said there will also be several offerings that spin off from the topic, highlighting the "enduring spirit of the arts." They include the showing of a film about Joe Papp, a renowned champion of public theater, and the North Country Shorts program, which displays the robust filmmaking that's happening in the region.
"We've got people making great films right here in the Adirondacks," Brearton said. "We want to see what they've put together."