Big support for small theaters

LAKE PLACID – A region-wide fundraising effort to help small, independent movie theaters pay for digital upgrades kicked off in style Friday night at the Palace Theatre.

The Go Digital or Go Dark campaign aims to raise funds for 10 North Country theaters that must convert to digital. After this year, Hollywood studios will no longer release movies on film, so if theaters don’t adapt, they could be forced out of business.

The cost of converting is high, ranging from $50,000 to $100,000 per screen, meaning theaters like the Palace in Lake Placid will have to pay some $300,000 to stay in business. That’s why the Adirondack Film Society and the Adirondack North Country Association have stepped forward to run a fundraiser to offset the costs of the looming conversion.

Friday’s event attracted more than 150 people, many dressed to the nines in their Hollywood best. The main entrance to the Palace sported a red carpet and velvet ropes, and the main lobby had the feel of an Oscars after-party.

After socializing and sipping champagne, the crowd moved into Theater 1 for the premiere of a trailer directed by filmmakers Aaron Woolf and T.J. Brearton. Before the lights dimmed, Adirondack Film Society President John Huttlinger explained that his organization had spread the word about the film-to-digital conversion and eventually got the attention of state Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, and ANCA.

Kate Fish, ANCA’s executive director, said the goal is to raise enough money to help with the transition.

“We can’t imagine Lake Placid without the Palace,” she said. “We can’t imagine our small towns without our small-town theaters. Quite frankly, these are family-owned small businesses. It’s beyond their means to raise this money on their own. So we’re all, together, jumping in to help.”

The two-and-a-half-minute trailer began with a Bigfoot-like monster chasing a woman through the forest. Then the film cut away, showing an empty reel spinning as an ominous voice explained the big costs associated with digital conversion. Crowds of upset moviegoers were shown sitting in the dark.

But as the voice began talking about the Go Digital or Go Dark campaign, the lights started to turn back on, and relieved faces of movie fans splashed across the scene.

The trailer was shot on location at North Country movie theaters and included local people. When it finished, the Palace audience burst into applause.

The trailer premiere was the main event, but the evening also featured locals talking about their memories of going to the movies. Valerie Rogers of Lake Placid recalled going to the midnight premiere of “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” at the Palace.

“And I remember emailing a buddy of mine in the City, and I said, ‘I went down and watched the Phantom Menace,’ and he said, ‘Oh my God, how long did you stand in line? And what did you pay for your tickets? I’ve been waiting in line for three weeks and I spent 300 bucks on my tickets,'” she said. “And I’m like, ‘Well, I walked down about 11, and I stood in line, I went across the street, got a cup of coffee. I paid six dollars for my ticket.’ And he was flabbergasted with that.

“One thing I think that’s really important to remember about this place is they’ve never gouged us. They don’t charge to make money here. They charge to keep it alive, and now they’re behind the 8 ball because they’re not trying to make a lot of money off of it.”

Sharon O’Brien of Saranac Lake said old theaters like the Palace aren’t just community gathering places; they’re also important historical structures.

“I love architecture,” she said. “I worked for Historic Saranac Lake many years ago, and Eileen Black was on the Board of Directors at that time. Eileen gave hours of her life to help restore this building, to keep it beautiful for us and for future generations. We need to save the building; we need to save the ability to watch movies in our hometown.”

Corey Hanf, owner of the Hollywood Theater in AuSable Forks, said the fundraiser will be the heart of the effort to save North Country cinemas.

“I don’t want to say it’s a last-ditch effort, but it’s getting there for a lot of us,” he said. “This is very promising, very encouraging – the turnout and support online already, even though the exposure has been very limited.”

Contact Chris Morris at 891-2600 ext. 25 or