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Adirondack Theaters Nearing Digital Goals

The Strand Theater in Old Forge. Photograph by Flickr user Liren Chen

The 86th Academy Awards will be broadcast March 2, 2014. Thanks to the Go Digital or Go Dark campaign launched by Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA), small-business grants and local fundraising, Adirondack cinemas have been able to screen virtually all of the nominees this winter with state-of-the-art equipment.

The picture was not so rosy more than a year ago, when movie distributors announced that 35mm film would be rapidly phased out. Many Adirondack cinemas had coddled and cobbled antique projectors and sound systems for decades to keep them running, turning cinema buffs into forensic electricians. For some, the industry’s mandate was the final straw. Inlet’s Tamarack Theater looked at the expense of modernizing and decided to scrap movies in favor of miniature golf and a game arcade.

Old Forge’s Strand Theater, dating to the 1920s, was faced with the task of raising well over $100,000 to convert to new projection systems. Everything from raffle tickets, book sales, benefit concerts and donation jars, plus a grant from ANCA helped owners Bob Card and Helen Zyma make the switch. In Tupper Lake, the State Theater not only sourced money locally and through New York State grants, it installed a 3-D system.

These places—anchoring dynamic Main Streets a generation ago—remain beloved community centers even as local commerce has disappeared. It’s not the five- or seven-buck tickets that have earned loyal audiences but the desire to keep small-town icons alive. Indian Lake Theater was shuttered and put up for sale in 2007, and five years ago in March hundreds of residents donated the money to buy and renovate the space as a nonprofit that is open all year. Indian Lake successfully raised $65,000 to install a digital system last spring, one of the first regional movie houses to make the transition.

The plight of North Country theaters was covered in a New York Times article last December. Lake Placid’s Palace has converted two of four screens to the new technology. For Schroon Lake’s Strand and the Hollywood in Au Sable Forks, partnering with nonprofits has helped buy a portion of the new equipment. But these theaters, closed this winter as usual, need more to complete the conversion for the next season.

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