No, this isn’t a post about Christian Crusaders fighting the Muslims hundreds of years ago. Instead, it’s about one of so many unnecessary fights that are waged today in the name of progress. It’s about a movie industry that is forcing small theaters in our country to take out huge loans to update their equipment, or they will no longer be allowed to receive the latest films. In fact, they may not even be allowed to show old films in the near future.
Digital conversion, it is said, offers better picture quality. Digital copies of a new film cost less to produce and distribute than 35mm prints. So Hollywood studios are making it tougher for theaters to get film. Soon, they warn, they will no longer make 35mm copies available at all.
As an amateur photographer, I wouldn’t have nearly so many photographs to share with you if I didn’t have a digital camera. You wouldn’t get any pictures of the books I reference if all I owned was a film camera. I converted to a digital camera long before anyone else in my family, and immediately saw the benefits of doing so.
But everyone is different. Just like the audiophiles who still prefer vinyl records and analog receivers to CDs and digital surround sound, some theater owners and attendees prefer the look of film to digital. These people would gladly pay a little more for the 35mm prints they love. And some filmmakers, including Christopher Nolan, the director of "Inception," and the latest Batman films, are pleading with the industry to continue providing 35mm prints to the theaters who want them.
People can be passionate about their small town theaters. Four of the entries on my visit to Ritz Cinema (where James Herriot had his second date with Helen Alderson) are among my ten most popular posts. This little theater (they’re called cinemas in England) has made the conversion to digital. But many theaters in the United States are finding it difficult to make the switch.
A Google search of “Forced Digital Theater Conversion” turns up page after page of articles on this issue. Small, independent theaters are pleading for financial assistance, as well as more time to complete the conversion. And other owners are simply giving up the fight. They cannot sell their theaters if they haven’t made the conversion to digital. So they’re simply closing the doors forever, and selling these historic properties.
“Convert or die,” John Fithian, the head of the National Association of Theater Owners, has told his members. Why die, John? Why should death even be an option?
Change can be a blessing, if it allows more choices for everyone. But no matter how resilient someone (or something) seems, sometimes one change can be one change too many. What causes are you fighting for? Are they causes that will result in greater inclusion and diversity? Or will acceptance by the majority exclude those who do not wish to (or simply cannot) change?
This particular crusade, being waged right now in the name of progress, seems unnecessary. Even if all the theaters could afford to upgrade their equipment, victory would mean decreased diversity in the marketplace, and excluding theater-goers looking for a different experience. In my mind, that not only makes it intolerant, but also heartless and cruel.
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