This year, film is undergoing the greatest revolution in a century: the transformation in film projection from 35mm to digital. Digital not as in DVD, but as in large drives with encrypted code and brilliant resolution. It’s the new way people are watching motion pictures throughout the world, and its official name is Digital Cinema Package (usually known by its acronym, DCP).
It’s a big change: the 35mm width was first used in 1892 by William Dickson and Thomas Edison using film stock made by George Eastman. Over more than 120 years, the format conquered the world; for a century Japanese, Indian, Australian, Russian and American films were all finished on 35mm. But times are changing; film distributors, studios and the makers of film stock are rapidly discontinuing exhibition on film. DCP has become the new standard by which films are shown. By 2014, DCP will be the all-but universal standard for films screened in the U.S.
It’s the most momentous technological change since the advent of sound in 1928. Change is coming quickly, and the message from the industry is clear: “Switch now or be left behind.” Within a year, 85% of the films we show must be screened on the DCP format.
Northwest Film Forum needs your help to make this change, keeping our screens bright and our doors open!
Who We Are
Northwest Film Forum is truly a forum, where films can find audiences and filmgoers can meet filmmakers. Our mission is to discover and champion the work of great filmmakers, and to engage the general public and artists alike in deeper exploration of the art of film. We screen more than 200 independently made and classic films every year, offer dozens of filmmaking classes (including summer camps for young people), and support filmmakers at all stages of their careers.
Our cinemas are lively, dynamic spaces that welcome more than 24,000 filmgoers every year to watch new, strange and beautiful films from every corner of the world. We show the best in American and international independent films, cinema classics, live musical scores and new performances that intersect with film. We host dozens of filmmakers each year from around the country and around the world. Panels, guest lectures and discussions add to the unique experience of our theaters. We serve independent artists and other local arts organizations by offering space for auditions, rehearsals and events. We work, for example, with the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival and the Deaf Spotlight Film Festival. We are a place for connection and for conversation about why cinema matters.
What we need
We're preparing to purchase the technology to convert to Digital Cinema, the new projection system that is sweeping the world. That’s $50,000 for one theater, and that buys us:
• A Barco Integrated DLP Cinema projector (aka DP2K-10Sx)
• A Server for storage and playback, a high-grade cinema lens, a spare xenon lamp. This unit is specifically designed for art house theaters our size.
• A Universal projector pedestal, with a modular system that will allow us, on occasion, to still project 35mm films.
• Ventilation and lamphouse cooling system in the projection booth.
• A new port window cut into our projection booth to match DCP specifications.
• Shipping, installation, and new cables.
You have questions? We have answers.
Why has the cinematic world converted to DCP?
Conversion to a ‘new’ format is fueled by shifts in technology – your phone is probably a decent video camera, right? – and because making and shipping the new digital prints saves millions. The cost of replacing projection machines in cinemas, on the other hand, falls on individual theaters and exhibitors.
What will happen if we don’t add Digital Cinema at the Film Forum?
After 2013, 85% of the films we currently screen will need to be shown on DCP, because Digital Cinema will be the only available format film distributors will offer. (We know, it’s weird, given that there are perfectly beautiful prints of Pather Panchali out there, but those are the rules.) If we don't have the new technology in place we won’t be able to show films.
What is the time frame? Can’t we wait for a few more years and see what happens?
Putting off this challenge isn’t an option; we have until the end of this year to make the transition before our access to most films is cut off.
Don't we already own digital projectors?
Yes, but ours aren’t built to decode, or accept, DCP, which is “proprietary” and plays only on approved gear. Bonus: the new system will project brighter film images than we have previously shown digitally (and our digital images have been pretty sharp).
How does Digital Cinema look?
The picture on the big screen is crisp and bold. Digital Cinema is a step forward into the future of visual presentation for new films (mainstream and independent alike). Plus, many older classic films are gaining new life after being digitally restored. Film purists will grieve the fading of 35mm, but this new system will feel sharp, and the visual and aesthetic experience will be potent.
Can we just lease the equipment?
The “leasing” option available is “financing” by another name. We have explored distributors' plans to "help" theaters with the transition financially, but that option comes with strings, including mandates about what we will and won't screen. We care about the independence of organizations like ours that screen a huge diversity of new work and classic films, and have rejected this option.
What happens to our current 35mm projectors?
They aren’t going anywhere. Each year, a few new film prints will be made. Those very few prints will not be a reliable source for the movies we need to show to survive; however, we will hold onto our excellent 35mm film projectors and use them for special revivals. We’ll show archival prints and classic movies on 35mm film.
Want to learn more about our long-term plans?
Conversion to a Digital Cinema Package in our cinemas is part of an over-arching three-year renovation plan to upgrade our venue and our capacity in Seattle. Already King County’s 4Culture as well as the Seattle Mayor's Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs and over 100 individual supporters have seen the value of this project and made generous donations for physical renovations to our lobby and our theaters.
The upgrade of our cinemas and lobby will complete work that was begun in 2004, when we moved into the current theater. We want to provide filmgoers and filmmakers alike with an inviting, state-of-the-art experience. Along with installing DCP, over the next three years we plan to:
• Replace our street-level canopy with a marquee; install screens in our street-facing windows to showcase coming attractions and films we helped bring into the world.
• Renovate our lobby: finish out our concessions stand, introduce a point-of-sale ticketing system, add seating, re-paint the walls.
• Upgrade our four classrooms into state-of-the-art places to learn; they will be out-rigged with new wiring, screens and projectors, seminar tables, screens, carpets, white boards.
Huge thanks to our team of volunteers and supporters who've helped make this Kickstarter campaign possible, including Amy Billharz, Bmann Photography, Elisa Huerta-Enochian, Charles Mudede, Pat Paquette, Nandan Rao, Jennifer Roth, Margaret Schuler, Lynn Shelton, Marcy Stone, Jessie Wilson and many more.
Risks and challenges
The risks and challenges surrounding the digital transition are minimal, as we have done extensive research on equipment manufacturers and integrators, and what will work best for our space. If this Kickstarter campaign is successful we expect to implement the upgrades as soon as possible, and at least by August 2013. We will work with the most qualified local theater technicians, who will donate part of the installation labor costs.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (40 days)