Save our cinemas

If, like us, you love movies, especially movies in the theater – especially in our vintage local cinemas, with their cheap prices and classy quirks – then now’s the time to step up and support them. Otherwise, they’re likely to go away later this year.

Starting in the fall, the movie industry plans to cease production of movie prints on film and only release new movies digitally. Any stragglers will be left in the dark.

Film has been mostly obsolete in still cameras for a few years (we stopped using it in ours in 2000) and now it’s being phased out of cinemas, too. Most of the nation’s movie theaters, owned by huge chains, have already been converted to digital projection. Here in the North Country, though, we’re in the rare and fortunate situation of having our movie houses owned and run by local families. Furthermore, they’re still located in the same great-looking buildings where they always were, which are full of the golden age of Hollywood. We’ve long enjoyed an advantage in the moviegoing experience over most North Americans, who see films in nondescript concrete boxes instead of Art Deco temples to one of America’s most pervasive and distinctive art forms.

Plus, the local movie theaters are still downtown and draw people who might patronize other local businesses. Losing them would be a blow to local economies.

On top of all that, local theater owners have long given us the gift of affordability. Most American adults pay $10 or more to see a movie on the big screen, and then they’re shaken down at the concession stand where even the smallest soda and popcorn can set one back $9. (At Plattsburgh’s Cumberland 12 Cinemas, a small popcorn and soda cost $9.50 together.) At the Palace in Lake Placid, an adult movie ticket costs $7 and a small popcorn $1. At the Hollywood Theater in AuSable Forks, a movie costs just $6.

It’s time to give at least a little bit of that gift back. Think about how much money you’ve saved: You can safely estimate $4 per adult movie ticket, $3 per child and $3 per snack and/or drink. Add that up for every local movie you’ve seen – ever – at the Palace, the Hollywood or the State Theater in Tupper Lake.

Then consider that, if they had charged you that extra money and saved it wisely, they’d have been able to convert to digital projection, which has been said to cost between $50,000 and $100,000 per screen.

As it is, our local theater owners can’t afford all that on their own. Some, yes, but they need help. Otherwise, they’ve said they have to close.

An effort to get state grants for this cause failed, which is as it should be. We don’t think tax dollars should be used to bail out an industry challenged by the march of time and technology – and that’s coming from a newspaper.

Voluntary contributions, however, are perfectly appropriate and, in this case, badly needed.

A regional fundraising campaign called “Go Digital or Go Dark” has begun in earnest, organized by the Adirondack North Country Association and the Adirondack Film Society. Ten theaters are participating: The Palace, the State, the Hollywood, three called the Strand – in Old Forge, Schroon Lake and Plattsburgh – the Indian Lake Theater, the Ogdensburg Cinema, the Glen Drive-In in Queensbury and the Cinemateque in South Glens Falls.

It’s easy to donate. You can go old-school and mail a check to ANCA, 67 Main St., Saranac Lake, NY 12983, or you can give online via Razoo, a fundraising site similar to the better-known Kickstarter. Go to, click on which theater you want to give to, and follow the directions.

Filmmaker Aaron Woolf, who made the 2007 farm industry documentary “King Corn,” and Lake Placid’s own T.J. Brearton (of film production company Adk Mogul) have produced a trailer to promote the campaign; you can see it debuted at a kick-off event at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the Palace in downtown Lake Placid. Admission and refreshments are free, and people are encouraged to doll themselves up in their “North Country fancy Hollywood best!” Sounds like fun.

ANCA is still pursuing low- or zero-interest public “bridge loans” through Empire State Development to help get theaters through the quick transition to digital. Nevertheless, since the state opted not to pay for it through the Regional Economic Development Council process, ANCA is trying to get the whole thing funded with donations.

“We’re trying to recast this as a grassroots effort,” ANCA Communications Specialist Melissa Hart told us.

So it’s up to us locals. Please help save our cinemas so people can see new movies on the big screen for many years to come.